This article features a guest writer sharing her passion for UNC Chapel Hill as she shares her reflections and thoughts about her time on campus.
By Heather McConnell Brown
When asked to try and put in words my affection for THE University I love so much or my abhorration for that school 8 miles away, I honestly didn’t know it was possible. To me it is innate. It is as unexplainable as trying to describe the smell of the color 9. But I have found that my love for one and aversion of the other are intertwined. So take a walk with me down memory lane – Confessions of a Carolina Girl, if you will – and you will realize how this all came to fruition.
1. My Senior year at UNC – I was working a part time job at the Friday Conference Center. I would work from 6AM – noon, two days a week, catch the bus to campus and go to class. This worked perfectly – except for the last week in January 1997. UNC was scheduled to play in Durham – it was #19 Carolina vs #12 Duke. I had requested the following day off weeks before the game. When I went to work that week, my boss told me that she couldn’t grant me my request. She told me if I didn’t show up for work, not to come back the rest of the year. Without any hesitation I looked her straight in the eyes and told her I had enjoyed my time working with her, but I was giving my notice effective immediately. I finished my shift, walked out those doors and never looked back. In doing so, I spent the evening crowded around a TV with my buddies witnessing what would later turn out to be Dean Smith’s last game in Cameron. My priorities had been established and I would never waver. I would later plan my wedding date and all other significant events around UNC sports.
2. This one is an easy one…but every Carolina blue blood has at least one child or animal named for something Carolina related. Speaking of animals, there is this one rat that lives in Durham that all Carolina blue-blooded alumni and fans alike detest. Is it his mouth? Or lack of couth after losing that leads him to not being gracious enough to properly shake the hands of his opponents? Or his enduring hugs to Wojo, Danny Ferry, Laettner or Bobby Hurley? Or let us not forget his defiant defence of the “tripper” Grayson Allen? I am not for sure…but I can tell you “dadgummit” all of us love to hate K-Rat.
3. It’s a right of passage for student’s to drink from the Old Well on their first day of classes. But I also imagine, many of you have taken the pilgrimage to the Well with your children. For me, I took child #1 at 6 weeks and child #2 at 8 weeks. These baptismal pictures are proudly displayed next to their gowns…their baptismal gowns, because both are significant to me.
4. Hearing the names: Montross, Stackhouse, Wallace, Williams, Davis, Phelps, Salvadori, McInnis, and Calabria make you smile as much as the lore of Dasher, Dancer, Prancer, Vixen, Comet, Cupid, Donner, Blitzen and Rudolph. Coupled with the wrinkling of your nose with the hearing of word “Wojo”. However, the sleigh would be blue, never red and Santa would be #23 himself. Because we all know the ceiling is the roof! The 1995 double OT game at Duke exemplifies the greatest rivalries of all time. Of course Tyler Hansborough and the bloody nose- we all bled with you that night. Tyler solidified his place in our hearts and earned himself the well deserved Psycho T nickname.
5. Everyone has their favorite lullaby they sing to their children. My children grew up hearing ‘Hark the Sound’ as much as hearing ‘Kum ba yah’. I’m a Tar Heel born, I’m a Tar Heel bred, And when I die – I’m a Tar Heel dead. So it’s rah rah Car’lina ‘lina, rah rah Car’lina ‘lina….This is where I had always inserted “boo boo Dook.” Imagine the surprise in their eyes when they were at a game with me and they heard the “real” words.
6. Attending Carolina sports games with family is tradition…from Kenan to Boshamer, from the bell tower chiming on a crisp night after a victory to making the trek to Franklin after a glorious Carolina victory over “that” team. Seeing your child don a Carolina blue wig, face tattoo, cheer for UNC, boo the dook team as then enter the stadium….all of this makes it come full circle. Franklin Street holds many memories for me from Halloween to victory celebrations. It is also a place of history – from Silent Sam to heartbreak on January 26, 1995. That’s when tragedy touched the campus I love. Mental illness and gun shots came to the forefront that year. I will never forget running from Centennial campus to Granville. I had to reach my parents – before they heard the news. This was a time before cell phones and in an era school shootings had not occurred. The events of that day I will never forget. But the love that outpoured for the victims and even the forgiveness of the guilty party made an impact on me. Franklin Street represents an ever changing constant that I dreamed of sharing with my children. From selfies on Franklin with thousands of people, to seeing the infamous flame jumpers – seeing these experiences through the eyes of your children – makes them all the more sweeter while yet being thankful for this life I have been given.
7. October 9, 1997- there was an announcement from Chapel Hill that a press conference would be held at 2 PM, it would involve Dean Smith and AD Dick Baddour. The baby blue following knew this could not be good. So what else would a girl like me do? Take ½ day personal day to watch the press conference and shed tears in private to process the impending information. The day had come for the legend himself, Dean Smith to retire. The Carolina faithful would need a blue cup and some tissues to help us recover.
8. Two year later, I found myself collecting items for the Mt. Holly Habitat for Humanity Auction. I sent out letters near and far asking for memorabilia. I walk to my mailbox and I am so excited to have received my first donation! That happiness would quickly fade as I felt the blood drain out of my body. I rapidly read the return address with horror, Mike Krzyzewski, Cameroon Stadium Dr., Durham, NC. I actually drop the package on the concrete. Luckily it was not breakable. After not receiving anything from the flagship university the next week, I sent an SOS letter to Mecca….Dear Coach Smith, Please pardon me asking twice in one month for a donation….but the school 8 miles away responded within in a week and the school in Raleigh has also – so I am begging for something or I will never live this down. By the end of the week, not only had Coach Smith responded but so had Coach Guthridge and Coach Fox from the baseball team. Loyalty and faithfulness prevailed.
9. It was the fall of 1997, I was a new graduate with a new job and engagement. But I needed a wedding dress. My search led me to a dress in Charlotte. The following weekend my parents graciously told me they would take me to Atlanta to “that” dress shop to see if I might find something I liked better. Any typical bride would be ecstatic and packing her bags to travel. I packed my bags too. But I packed for God’s Country, Chapel Hill. I had tickets to the Florida State/UNC football game. ESPN, Game Day was even going to be there and I was not missing the game. This was the most important football game, UNC had ever played in my lifetime. UNC was undefeated and ranked #5 and we were hosting the Florida State Seminoles #2 in the nation…and we had a chance! Although UNC would not win that game – it left all of us knowing what it was like to be in atmosphere of a football school…in Chapel Hill. This girl is so happy Mack is back!! But back to my dress, when I returned for my fitting in Charlotte, the alterations lady turned out to be the same lady that made custom suits for Dean Smith. Yes, it was a sign. I knew I had made the correct decision – on the dress and the groom. Twenty plus years later, I still have my husband, that dress and wonderful memories of Game Day 1997.
And the top defining moment for me that sealed my fate as a Tar Heel and my love for all things light blue and a loathing for the other shade…
10. I was in Kenan Stadium for the Bicentennial Celebration, Oct. 12, 1993. Many celebrated people were there including the President of the United States. Most people remember that night due to the speech from one of North Carolina’s favorite sons, Charles Kuralt. ”What is it that binds us to this place…” This would later be immortalized in the Carolina commercial for years. While this part of the speech rings true to my heart- there is one more line that will always be more of a memory to me. “I speak for those of us that could not afford to go to Duke, and would not have even if we could have afforded it.” The roar in Kenan that followed that line will always echo in my mind as the resounding moment, I knew not only was I home in Chapel Hill- but I had embarked on the best decision I had ever made.
There are many more stories that illustrate my love for all things Carolina blue and my disdain for the other school. But I will stop at these 10, for some are never meant to be published but live in infamy in my memory bank. Thanks for joining me on memory lane – remember, “It’s always a good day to be a Tar Heel.” #gdtbath