College, pro teams offer Florence relief

Across the state, teams pitch in with money, aid to assist in recovery

East Carolina wore a One Carolina-themed logo — with the outline of a combined North and South Carolina — on its helmets for the Pirates’ game last weekend at South Florida to show support for relief efforts following Hurricane Florence. (Chris Urso / Tampa Bay Times via AP)

The members of East Carolina’s football team didn’t wear their hearts on their sleeves Saturday when they played at South Florida in their first game back after Hurricane Florence.

Instead, they showed their support for family members, friends, fans and classmates back home by wearing a special logo design on their helmets. It depicted the Pirates’ familiar skull and crossbones design superimposed inside the outline of a combined North and South Carolina.

While many other sports teams throughout the region also adopted the “One Carolina” emblem as a sign of their commitment to those affected by the devastating storm, the gesture was more personal to ECU coach Scottie Montgomery and his players because of their proximity to the hardest hit areas and the memories that still linger from Hurricane Matthew only two years ago.

“We know that there’s situations that will become better and there’s situations that will take a lot of work to get back through. But we’ve been through things like this before,” Montgomery said before his team’s 20-13 loss in Tampa. “We saw it happen a few years ago. We returned stronger, I know we will return stronger now.

“We have to endure through times like this. We’re trying to go out and put together a great performance on the field for you guys. We love every part of Eastern North Carolina.”

Montgomery is hardly the only high-profile sports celebrity with those feelings.

While ECU and college football programs around the state work to raise the spirits of those in despair through their play on the field and their efforts in collecting food, clothing and other donations through programs like the Pirates’ “Undaunted Hurricane Florence Food Drive,” others with ties to the coast have come through more substantial contributions.

Michael Jordan, in particular, stepped up by making a $2 million donation, with half going to the American Red Cross and the other half to the Foundation for the Carolina Hurricane Florence Response Fund.

The former UNC star and majority owner of the NBA’s Charlotte Hornets is a native of Wilmington, a city that was among the hardest hit by the storm. According to The Associated Press, the Hall of Famer still has friends and family members living in the flood zone.

“It just hits home,” Jordan told the AP. “I know all of those places: Wilmington, Fayetteville, Myrtle Beach, New Bern, and Wallace, which is where my father is from. So quite naturally it hits home, and I felt like I had to act in a sense that this is my home.”

NC State basketball coach Kevin Keatts also has strong feelings for the Port City, even though he only spent three years there while coaching at UNC Wilmington.

“That’s very dear to me,” Keatts said Monday during his opening remarks at the Wolfpack’s basketball media day. “I’m thinking about the people around the state, but after spending three years at Wilmington and being able to talk to some of those folks, to hear some of the stories of what’s going on, it’s tough.”

Keatts offered his support for the relief effort by pledging to donate all after-tax proceeds from his team’s “Primetime with the Pack,” event on Oct. 19 to those in need. State’s football program is doing its part too by asking fans to bring items for donation to Saturday’s home game against Virginia.

Among the supplies most needed by those displaced by the storm are buckets, paper towels, large garbage bags, scrub brushes, air fresheners, hand sanitizer, shampoo, soap, diapers, toilet paper, bottled water and nonperishable food items.

At UNC, members of the football team raised more than $1,200 by donating their per diem from their postponed game against Central Florida to the cause. Coach Larry Fedora and his players went into the community to help collect water and other items to be sent directly to hurricane victims.

“We’re willing to do anything that we can to help anybody in the state right now,” Fedora said, specifically mentioning New Bern, home of former UNC captain Kevin Reddick.

“We all know New Bern was hit very hard. Kevin’s from New Bern. We’re going to try to put together as much water and Gatorade, that’s what he’s looking for, because he wants to transport it over to New Bern to get it out to the people that have been affected.”

Duke and Wake Forest are also holding “fill the truck” drives at their home games Saturday. The Blue Devils are offering $5 general admission tickets to their Oct. 20 game against Virginia to those donating three more more items.

The NFL’s Carolina Panthers got involved Monday, less than 24 hours after their win against the Cincinnati Bengals, by donating their time to pack boxes of supplies to be sent directly to hurricane victims. They’re also raising money for those affected by the storm through the sale of T-shirts with the “One Carolina” logo on them.

Veteran defensive end Julius Peppers, a native of Wilson, also started his own fund and contributed $1 million.

“We rely on their support every week to come to the games and buy our jerseys,” Peppers said. “It’s only right for us to give the same support back to the them and help them in their time of need.”

The NHL’s Carolina Hurricanes also held a relief drive during their first two preseason home games last week, collecting items and gift cards to assist in the recovery. The team is also offering a limited number of lower-level $40 tickets to regular season home games on Oct. 7 and Oct. 9 with proceeds going to the state’s Disaster Relief Fund.

Both Jordan and Keatts stressed the need to collect as much money and materials as possible while attention is still focused on the devastation caused by Florence, since the cleanup and rebuilding effort will continue on long after the television cameras leave.

“The recovery effort will be massive, and it will take a long time to repair the damage and for families to get back on their feet,” Jordan said.

“What happens is when the media coverage goes away, people are left with a lot of things, picking up the pieces,” Keatts added. “I’ll tell you now that it’s the toughest part, the aftermath of it.”