Sports-Themed Parties Score Big


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For his eighth birthday, my son decided he wanted a football cake. And not just any football cake. It had to be (naturally) a Carolina Panthers cake.

Trouble is, he announced this on the day before his birthday. To double the trouble, there weren't any Panther cake decorations to be found.

That didn't stop my budding chef. He created a football field (a rectangle cake with icing tinted green and Carolina-blue end zones) with pretzel-stick uprights and a homemade Panther decoration mid-field.

With a bit more notice, it turns out we could have put together quite a Panther party for him. Or we could have gone with a baseball theme, a hockey theme, a basketball theme or a soccer theme. In fact, if you name the sport, chances are good that you'll easily find the party accessories to make it come alive.

Local party stores and Internet party supply sites are packed with sports-themed paper products and goodies for sports-themed parties, with or without team specifics. And there's no end to the activities and food items that lend themselves this popular party theme.

If you're planning a birthday party for a young sports fan in your family, we've come up with some ideas to get you started.

Announce the big event

• Print invitations to look like tickets to sporting events. Include all the details for the party. Include the words "Admit One" in bold lettering.

• On a color printer, print out a trading card with the birthday child's photo on the front and the party details on the reverse side.

• Send each guest a small ball with the party information written on it.

• Write the information on a sports banner or pennant.

Game plan for winning décor

• Transform your backyard into a sports field, using goals and marking end zones. If you don't mind waiting for it to grow out (you can mow it later), you might consider using real field marking paint.

• Display the birthday child's favorite team colors with traditional decorations, like streamers and balloons.

• Hang signs like "Locker Room" on the coat closet, "Restroom" on the bathroom door, and "Coach's Office - Do Not Enter" on rooms you want off-limits for the party.

• Make your own piñata from a giant balloon covered in paper mache and decorated to resemble the ball or puck from the birthday child's favorite sport.

Suit up

• Invite kids to wear their favorite fan apparel or team uniforms.

• Don't forget the black-and-white striped shirts for you and your fellow sporty chaperones.

Activities that keep 'em entertained

• Make a giant target and host a football- or baseball-throwing competition, a hockey- or soccer-goal competition or a tennis-target competition.

• Set up a mini golf course in the backyard complete with obstacles — a sprinkler becomes a water hazard, a sandbox becomes a sand trap.

Use play tunnels as fun, challenging holes for players to hit the ball through. Create large, cardboard cutouts and anchor them upright; challenge the players to putt through a hole in the cardboard.

• Host the party at an ice rink, driving range, neighborhood park, basketball court or ball field for some physical fun.

• Play an informal game of backyard soccer or volleyball.

• Host a skills competition, mixing up sports. Who can throw past a certain tree? Who can make ten baskets in one minute? Double up the fun and have party-goers pair up in teams.

• Give each guest their own T-shirt in the colors of the party's theme. Let each child decorate a shirt with fabric paints (do this early in the party, so it has time to dry), or supply stick-on numbers and let kids choose a number for their "team jersey."

• Set up an obstacle course and put the guests through "training camp." Hot dogs! Popcorn! Peanuts!

• Serve simple foods like hot dogs, veggie sticks or nachos. And wash it down with a sports drink or tall bottles of chilled water.

• Offer individual boxes of Cracker Jacks, or fill up striped bags with popcorn, peanuts or cotton candy. You can rent concessions equipment or set up your own "vendor" area using a wagon as the vendor's cart.

• Make your sports cake shine. Create a playing field by sprinkling green-tinted coconut over the frosting for a grassy field; add white yard lines. For goals or uprights, dip small pretzel sticks into melted white chocolate, and lay them on waxed paper to form. Chill, and set them in the end zones before serving.

Or, make a half of a ball by baking the cake in an oven-safe baking bowl. When cool, invert and decorate. It can be a basketball, tennis ball, soccer ball, baseball. You name it!

Everyone's a winner

• Take-home treats can include ball caps, referee whistles, flying discs, foam fingers and small trophies. Sports-related trinkets abound!

• Give each child a small ball. Have party-goers sign one another's balls as a keepsake.

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