Saturday was a big day. It is a day I will always remember, and I will tell my son about it so much, he will think he remembers. It was his first UNC basketball game and his first trip to the Dean Dome. He has been to see the Heels play football many times and even made trips to Carter-Finley and Dowdy-Fickly, but the first basketball game was always going to be more of an event. As a Tar Heel, basketball is extremely important, it is part of how we describe ourselves. When people think of UNC they think of basketball and Chapel Hill. For better or worse it is part of who we are. We love our football, baseball, and soccer, but basketball defines us.
My only experience as a father is with little boys, so I can’t vouch for the fairer sex, but it is extremely easy to brainwash your kids. You can tell them to eat dirt and as long you keep up the act, they will eat dirt and think it’s fantastic. What I don’t know is how long said brainwashing will last, though I assume a while since I have no other way to explain anyone under 40 who voted for Romney. Anyway, I have been constantly talking up the Tar Heels to my oldest son. He has been wearing gear since he was born and he even knows the fight song. I am in a bit of pickle as my lovely wife went to the vocational school in Raleigh and I am the only one in my family who attended UNC so I tread carefully. I never tell him not to root for someone or that one team is bad, but I focus solely on the good that is UNC; the well, the girls, not having to go to class. Its been easy and a whole lot of fun. Taking him to his first basketball game is a very important part of this process…
Some may ask how a kid growing up just outside of Ft. Lauderdale, Florida with parents who went to ECU and worshiped at the altar of the great Jimmy V ends up a Tar Heel. I owe my inner Tar Heel to my Grandparents and Aunt. My grandfather fought in WWII and when he returned to Lumberton he had to find something to do. Taking advantage of the GI Bill, he decided to head North to Chapel Hill. He spent two years in Chapel Hill before returning home to take over the family business, but the impact was profound. He spent the next 60 years watching the Tar Heels play basketball and saw the Heels win five national championships (though its unclear how much he saw of the 05 and 09 finals as he was prone to fall asleep in his chair after partaking in a martini or two.) He also spent that time making converts of my Grandmother who went to a small school in New York and my aunt who went on to earn two degrees from UNC. Somehow my dad slipped through the cracks choosing to attend school in Florida, which was home for him. By the time the family’s first grandkid arrived they were itching to pass on their Tar Heel traditions. My parents resisted as any ABC’er would, but after moving to Florida where we lived for 11 years, the pull of a home I barely knew was too much.
Passing on your love of an institution is delicate game. Push too hard and he may come to resent your passions, if you don’t emphasize it enough, he may gravitate somewhere else. My dad is convinced my boys will grow up to hate UNC since he automatically rooted against any team my grandfather cheered for. Once famously cheering against the Dolphins in the Super Bowl, which drew the great ire of his father1. I have decided to approach it with constant positive reinforcement. At the game I pumped him full of sweet and salty snacks hoping the brain will associate the Heels with that instant sense of joy. I also don’t make him watch the games, but always let him know what’s going on. This is a process and I am in it for the long haul.
My grandparents flew me up to North Carolina when I was a Freshmen in high school. My aunt took me to Chapel Hill and toured me around campus, including the Old Well, the Rathskeller, and of course the Shrunken Head. We watched the Heels lose to Clemson in football and also went to the Blue-White game. You can imagine which had the greater impact. It was Fall of 1994 and the Heels were breaking in two all-world Freshmen onto a National Championship winning team. Watching Jerry Stackhouse dunk in the warm ups insured I would be a Tar Heel for life, and explains why I still wear a nasty #42 jersey when a little good karma is needed. From that point on I was a Tar Heel, and I haven’t missed many games or Inside Carolina threads since.
We got to the game on Saturday a little late since my wife wanted to go to Spanky’s, a Chapel Hill staple and one of the few remaining restaurants from my college days. I told him how special the Dean Dome was and he commented that everything was Carolina Blue. While, he does love the Heels I must admit his immediate worry was when we were going to get some “snacks,” not the Heels 8-0 deficit to the Hokies. We got some popcorn and settled into our seats. We cheered when the Heels scored and joined in on TAR – HEEL chants. The game went into overtime and he sat patiently as I tried to explain the concept of “free basketball.” It was easy to tell he enjoyed the game, though not as much as I enjoyed being there with him.
I can’t guarantee he will be a Tar Heel, and I will be proud of him wherever he ends up. But, I have done my part and he will be a Tar Heel Bred.