For the 2023 season, Morgan Hill was Panthers’ haven, where they ate, slept, practiced, and engaged with community members.

Photos by Marty Cheek
Left: Assistant coach Dixie Wooten III and fans celebrate the Bay Area Panthers IFL Championship 51-41 victory over the Sioux Falls Storm. Above: Panthers fan Christian Paul takes a selfie with defensive lineman Datona Jackson.

By Roy Choi

Roy Choi

As I trot around the arena minutes before kick-off, I share hugs, handshakes, and high-fives with our esteemed staff, players, coaches and fans. This ritual is one of my favorite highlights of the game. We strap on our armor — helmets and pads for our players, foam claws and jerseys for our fans — ready to accomplish our singular mission. To emerge triumphant as one.

Though we may enter this battlefield as mere acquaintances, for the ensuing two and a half hours after kick-off, we are comrades. We are the Bay Area Panthers. We are community. And that community continues beyond the echoes of that final whistle.

It continues in the form of our Panthers making appearances in schools or for charitable causes.

It continues with the heartfelt gestures by Morgan Hill residents who plan events for our players, or local businesses (some struggling to stay in business) sponsoring the team to express their support. And community is very palpable when the city plans a parade to unite us in our shared victory.

A community is not built overnight. It’s not something money can buy. It requires sacrifice, generosity, vulnerability, and gratitude. The Panthers front office staff and coaches are paid less than they could be paid in other industries, but they do it for the love of the game and the love for our players.

They focus on preparing our players to perform to the best of their abilities. The Panthers players sacrifice their health and bodies in every practice and every game. They want to win for themselves, but even more so for the fans. The Panthers fans generously give of their time and spirit, coming out to every game to cheer, energize and inspire our players to victory.  And while the battle is fought at the SAP Center, we regroup and recharge back at the home of the Panthers — the city of Morgan Hill.

Last season, we won one game and lost 15. However, our small but scrappy group of fans did not give up. They provided the spark for what became the community of Panthers.

For the 2023 season, Morgan Hill was our haven, where we ate, slept, practiced, and engaged with community members. We had excellent coaches who recruited talented players who practiced hard and won. But there’s a difference between being winners and being champions. For the Bay Area Panthers this season, it was community that was that difference maker. It was community that won us that championship.

Roy Choi is the co-owner of the Bay Area Panthers. He wrote this for Morgan Hill Life.