Tar Heel Forever

“I’m a Tar Heel Born”

I’m a Tar Heel Born, I’m a Tar Heel bred. And when I die, I’m a Tar Heel Dead”.

The above lyrics to the official fight song of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill (UNC-CH) epitomize the heart and soul of Carolina students’ support of Tar Heel athletics.  With the first athletic team appearing in 1888, intercollegiate competition at UNC-CH has expanded dramatically over the past 123 years. Now, as students enter classrooms, their first inclination, even before taking their seats to listen to their professor’s lecture, is to chat about Tyler Zeller’s twenty-one points and nine rebounds against the Kentucky Wildcats or Tommy Coyle’s pair of runs at the bottom half of the first against the Clemson Tigers. The academics aspect of higher education at UNC-CH is now coupled with student athletics which amplifies students’ morale. This strengthens the university because it gives students an identity that allows them to better relate to one another. Thus, when student athletics at the university faces hardship, as a unit, students band together to demonstrate support.

Tar Heel Founding

Once Tar Heel athletics became established, the denotation of student athletes started to be created. Like the majority of universities in the 1700s, UNC-CH was not focused on athletic programs. After over ninety years of emitting students, football pioneered Tar Heel athletics in 1888 (Sanders par. 3). With the introduction of football, the concept of student athletes became more tangible. Because academics was and still is the guiding force behind all students attending the university, student athletes became not only those who only participated academically at the university, but those who were also willing to challenge themselves in extra-curricular way as well (Sanders par. 4).

The Marching Tar Heels at Kenan Memorial Stadium on the campus of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. Created by and should be attributed to Yellowspacehopper under the Creative Commons Attribution 3.0 license.

The initial purpose of student athletics at the university was to have school-sponsored activities that benefited physical education, however student athletics grew to achieve much more. Because football was nationally the most prevalent collegiate sport of the time, the university’s goal was carried out through that contact sport. While football successfully met the physical education goal of student athletics, a new purpose of the student athletics began to bud. Students became interested in the game, not only to play but to watch. Although there were other clubs and activities to participate in at the university (like hunting and dance), few presented the ability to sit back, relax, and enjoy others’ accomplishments. Athletics, football in particular, began to allow that. Over time, other sports permitted an identical emotion among students at UNC-CH. Baseball followed football as the next intercollegiate sport which then led interest in other sports like basketball and tennis. Currently in 2011, the university represents many sports: baseball, basketball, fencing, cross country, track and field, football, lacrosse, soccer, golf, swimming and diving, field hockey, rowing, wrestling, softball and volleyball. These sports all assisted in the creation of a Tar Heel identity among students. Because of the diversity of the sports and the diversity of students’ interests, most students have an athletic team to associate with whether it is ritually attending games, matches, or races or celebrating their victories that they read in the newspapers or viewed on television. Student athletes moved past the need for enjoyable supervised physical education to a pastime where all students—those who are participating and those who are spectators—are able to join together under one name, Tar Heel, and share the experience with one another (North Carolina par. 1-2).

Tar Heel Difficulties

As student athletics expanded, the intercollegiate sports needed regulations which have been beneficial and have had the adverse effect. The Nation Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) became the organization that ran college sports. Because student and national interest of student athletics increased, college sports became a lucrative business that needed oversight. Over the last fifty years, the NCAA has been stricter on the regulations which have had positive and negative effects. A positive is that prospective college athletes must attain a certain grade point average and SAT score in order to be eligible to receive a scholarship from a university. Contrastingly, the NCAA turned away National Merit Scholars and valedictorians because they had not taken enough high school courses required by the NCAA (Nathan par. 5). The University of North Carolina benefits from the GPA and SAT requirements, but regulations like Title IX and certain requirements of athletes have hurt UNC-CH and thus student unity and morale.

Originally posted to Flickr as 2006 College Cup Champions on 3 December 2006

Gender equality was a prevalent issue in student athletics which effected student morale. To equalize funding in student athletics, the federal government passed Title IX legislation which laid out three prongs which need to be met to receive federal funding for collegiate sports: athletic participation proportional to student enrollment; expansion of athletic opportunities for the underrepresented sex;   and accommodation of the interest and ability of underrepresented sex (TitleXI, par. 1). Because college sports at UNC-CH acts as a bridge between students, taking away athletic teams because of the longing for gender equality hurts the morale that college sports have created. Arguably, Title IX does not take into account the differences in the interest generated in male and female sports. Therefore, certain teams with no female equivalent suffer greatly. The UNC wresting team is an example. Because there is no female equivalent, the UNC-CH wrestling team does not receive the monetary benefits to excel as they should.  C.D. Mock, the coach of the wrestling team, states, “It is not just simple enough to say women and men should be treated the same….period.   Women and men are not the same and they are not treated the same in our society.  Few would argue that in war, men and women generally have different roles.  You don’t see many armies populated 50% by women carrying guns to the front line” (Gender Equality par. 3). His aggravation coincides with a national argument that expresses a greater amount of students and general spectators prefer male student athletics and thus male athletics should not be punished or inhibited because of that (Walton par. 2). This is not to take away from female athletic opportunities, but stating that male athletic opportunities should be equally important. While Title IX does help broaden female college athletics and thus increases student morale for their fans, the limitations Title IX places on certain male athletics can decrease morale which can puncture the unity that the sport brought to the school.

NCAA regulations inhibited the Tar Heels recently during the fall of 2010, but instead of perforating student morale and unity, it brought Carolina students together. The NCAA held an investigation of thirteen Carolina football players because they felt that the players received certain types of improper benefits. The result of the investigation concluded with multiple players being removed from the team and ineligible to qualify for the NFL draft. Because of the Tar Heel unity among Carolina students, students rallied together to convey support and empathy for their fellow students, understanding the difficult and ridiculous situation they were facing. The university announced that more students attended games and used social media outlets to demonstrate their support. This situation explicitly highlights the effect of student athletics. Because students felt united as Tar Heels, they were able to use that unity to show compassion which shows the strength of the university as a whole.

When I die I’m a Tar Heel Dead

The student athletics program at the University of Carolina at Chapel Hill breaks barriers assisting students to see each other unified as Tar Heels. Students celebrate UNC-CH’s feats and feel the Carolina sports teams’ hardships. Since UNC-CH’s first football team, student athletics has been a vital aspect of school spirit. Having a team to support is an uplifting aspect of the university which helps mitigate the struggles of academia. Athletics forges a bond that centers on a common purpose. Unlike the individualization of academia, the common thread of student athletics generates relationships between genders, nationalities, ages, classes, etc. For the oldest alumni and the youngest freshman may not be bonded by novels read in literature classes or proofs learned in calculus, but experiences and accolades they either accomplished or observed at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill link these individuals together forever. Therefore, under one Tar Heel voice, all present or former Carolina students will join collectively to sing the alma mater:

Hark the sound of Tar Heel Voices ringing clear and true. Singing Carolina’s praises shouting N.C.U!


North Carolina Tar Heels Information.” Ticket Brokers – Sports Tickets – Concert Tickets – Theater Tickets. Web. 04 Apr. 2011

Nathan, Joe. “Taking on the NCAA.” Phi Delta Kappan 82.4 (2000): 310. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 3 Apr. 2011.

“Gender Equality and Title XI.” Message to Corey Mock. 6 Dec. 2010. E-mail.

Sanders, John L. “Hark the Sound of Tar Heel Voices: 220 Years of UNC History.” North Carolina Historical Review 86.1 (2009): 105-106. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.

TitleIX.”  Title IX Home. Web. 04 Apr. 2011.

Walton, Theresa A., and Michelle T. Helstein. “Triumph of Backlash: Wrestling Community and the “Problem” of Title IX.” Sociology of Sport Journal 25.3 (2008): 369-386. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 4 Apr. 2011.

Wolverton, Brad.  “Faculty Reps Botch Sports-Oversight Role.” Chronicle of Higher Education 57.11 (2010): A1-A12. Academic Search Premier. EBSCO. Web. 27 Feb. 2011.

About the Author

Erin Rowe is a freshman at the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill. She plans to major in Business Administration and Psychology.

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