Hark The Sound
Last night, following the loss, someone asked me why I cared so much about a game, about a team, about a school I didn't even attend. He's not the first person to ask me this and he surely won't be the last. Any time I am asked this question, I struggle to put into words why. If we have ever met, you know I talk a LOT. It's a rarity that I am ever speechless. This question doesn't make me speechless because I am trying to come up with a reason. I become speechless because it's all so much bigger than words for me.
My dad was raised on Carolina basketball. His mom was a very skilled basketball player and I am assuming she chose to be a Carolina fan because of the rich basketball history. She nor my Papa attended Carolina. Neither of my parents attended Carolina. But damnit if we weren't Tar Heels.
I was born at UNC Medical Center. Although I was about 3 years old, I swear to you I can remember going to my first Carolina Football game. We sat in the student section and it rained. I wanted to be three things growing up - a dentist, a country singer and a Carolina cheerleader. My brother and I played basketball in our back yard with a kids size Carolina basketball. We loved the Hornets but also the Bulls because Michael Jordan was a Tar Heel. UNC won a championship when I was in kindergarten (93) and Eric Montross was like our golden god. My dad never took me to games growing up, only my brother, but damnit if I didn't make sure to watch those games on TV so I could talk to them about it.
I remember when Dean Smith retired. It was as if our world ended. He was the only "Coach" many of us had ever known. My dad and my brother went to one of the last games.
In 8th grade, my middle school cheerleading squad attended cheer camp at UNC. This meant I got to spend a few days in a dorm at CAROLINA! Chapel Hill! My birthplace! My dreams of being a Carolina cheerleader were (sort of) happening! Memories made that week are seared into my brain. The humid NC summer, the endless maze of brick sidewalks, the sweaty stunting sessions in the gymnastics gym, the smell of the chlorine when walking through the natatorium, the orange instant Gaterade packets they gave us. I wanted that to be my life. I wanted to be a part of the Carolina family.
That same school year, my English teacher told me there was no way I had the grades to get into Carolina. My dreams were crushed. Instead of taking this news and using it as motivation, I just accepted the fact that I would never go to Carolina.
In 10th grade, we attended cheer camp at UNC again. Later that year, we attended a cheerleading competition at the Dean Dome. I am not joking when I say that when we hit the competition floor, I cried. I cried because I was at Carolina, in the Dean Dome, on the court, cheering, right there under all the banners and jerseys. I remember looking up during 90% of our routine, just to soak it all in. We placed 2nd in that competition but I don't even think I cared. I had finally cheered in the Dean Dome!
2005 brought my 18th birthday, high school graduation, and a National Championship victory for UNC Basketball. As I headed off to Campbell University to continue my education and cheer, many of my friends attended UNC. Halloween that year was spent at Frat Court and it is definitely a night I will never forget.
When I cheered for Campbell, if a UNC game was on at the same time our game was, I would check the scores during timeouts. I would excuse myself to the bathroom to text a friend to ask how the game went. I literally cared more about ANOTHER TEAM than the team I was cheering for! We played against the team that Matt Doherty was coaching at the time and they beat the shit out of us. I still went over after the game and got a photo with him. Why? Because although he was a horrible coach while he was at UNC, he played Carolina basketball with Jordan. He is a Tar Heel, love or hate him.
The next few seasons for Carolina basketball brought so many ups and downs. I connected with that team more than any other Carolina team before or after. Why? Because I was the same age. I was struggling through college classes and experiencing the growing pains of being in my late teens/early 20's just like they were. This is when my life became planned around Carolina games. If they had a home game, I was in the Dean Dome with my dad or my friends. If they had an away game, I was parked in front of a TV. During the 2009 Championship season, I only missed two home games, one of which being the Duke game (still have never been to a UNC vs Duke basketball game).
Since moving to Los Angeles, all of my trips home are planned around how many Carolina games I can fit into one trip. If the team comes anywhere out West, I try my hardest to go.
Why do I care so much about a game, about a team, about a school I didn't even attend? Because I was RAISED on it. Because Carolina Basketball is a constant. Because I can count on Carolina Basketball to be there no matter what shape my personal life might be in. Because the games are something that my dad and I can go to together. Because I can force my nephews to sign up for UNC basketball camp one day and live vicariously through them. Because watching Carolina games makes me feel at home even when I am 3k miles away. Because Carolina Blue is God's favorite color. Because singing "Sweet Caroline" at a Carolina Football game is one of the best feelings in the world. Because the mascot is a ram that eats the bushes at Kenan Stadium. Because I have met some of the greatest people in the world through Carolina Basketball. Because I have had some of the best times ever traveling to games with friends. Because the Carolina Family takes care of their own. Because "Late Night With Roy". Because of all the funny student made t-shirts that always turn up every season. Because "Blue Steel". Because biscuits. Because former players WANT to come back in the summers and help out. Because those student athletes are ridiculously proud to wear those uniforms. Because Franklin Street/TOPO/He's Not/Sup Dogs. Because Chapel Hill is one of the greatest places on Earth. Because when Marcus Paige cries and says he realizes he has to take off his jersey and never put it back on, I cry too. Because the fight song literally says "Go To Hell Duke", a sentiment I feel like most of us can get behind. Because someone is always going to yell "Go Heels" when they see you in a Carolina shirt and you'll instantly know they are family. Because Dean Smith and Stu Scott.