In Chapel Hill and beyond, UNC traditions run deep

In Chapel Hill and beyond, UNC traditions run deep

The recent firebombing of Davie Poplar helps Tar Heels remember some of the best traditions carried on by UNC students past, present and future.

Above: Tens of thousands of Tar Heels celebrate the NCAA Men’s Basketball Championship on April 3, 2017. The celebration continued traditions established by previous UNC national championship victories. Photo by Mimi Tomei.

The tree that went up in flames on UNC’s campus on Nov. 2 wasn’t just any tree – it was a certain poplar so important to the school that, in true UNC fashion, the famous arbor has been genetically cloned to ensure its survival.

Thought to be over 200 years old, Davie Poplar resides in modern-day McCorkle Place, where the university’s founder and the tree’s namesake, William Richardson Davie, is said to have planned the university’s first building.

Furthering the mythology surrounding the tree, the bench underneath it is supposed to also have powers – if a couple sits on the bench, the two are supposed to marry. But Davie Poplar is far from the only tradition that has become part of UNC lore in the university’s over two centuries of existence.

Not far from Davie Poplar stands the Old Well, a symbol so enduring that it has a prominent place on UNC’s logo. Tradition dictates that if a student drinks from the Old Well on the first day of class, he or she should finish the semester with a 4.0. Though this writer can attest that this practice isn’t always effective, students still line adjacent Cameron Avenue on the first day of each new semester awaiting a magical sip.

With luck, basketball season brings a whole new level of excitement to Franklin Street, which runs parallel to McCorkle Place. Cyclists, pedestrians and cars are replaced with bonfires and jubilant Tar Heels when we beat our dark blue-clad rivals from Durham.

And on April 3, 2017, as on April 6, 2009; April 4, 2005; April 5, 1993 and March 29, 1982, scores of UNC students and fans converged on the street, with the epicenter of excitement being the intersection of Franklin Street and Columbia Street.

The celebration of a national championship win, with the singing of the alma mater and the fires and the sea of Carolina blue, is something that generations of Tar Heels have shared, though the coaches and players we’ve cheered to victory have changed. Knock on (hard)wood, future Tar Heels will, too.

“Hark the Sound” isn’t just special after a national championship, though. Nor is it unique to basketball games. The ballad is traditionally sung after every UNC athletic competition, win or lose, with fans linking arms with the friends – or strangers – who sit beside them in the stands. Though these Tar Heels might not know each other personally, they share the common bond of cheering on the team in the light blue.

As we sway singing Carolina’s praises, we not only connect with other current Tar Heels, but we remember and honor the traditions of legendary figures like Dean Smith, known for excellence on the court and humility off the court.

And every May, Tar Heel graduates don light blue robes when it comes time for their final walk down the stairs at Kenan Stadium as students, eschewing neutral colored robes for our own uniquely Carolina blue hue.

But it isn’t just in joy that we experience tradition.

Tradition and school spirit are so strong here that even the fire trucks that responded to the Davie Poplar incident were Carolina blue, and the incident brought out one last UNC tradition – community.

The UNC community has rallied around astronomy professor Dr. Daniel Reichart, an astronomy professor who attempted to extinguish the flames before the explosive device went off, leaving him burned. Reichart’s No Shave November campaign has raised over $8,000, and many of the donations include notes of encouragement from UNC students and alumni.

And Reichart isn’t the only one who’s been embraced by the UNC community as of late – a beloved crossing guard was the subject of a recent GoFundMe campaign that raised over $7,000, mostly in small donations from students, in an effort to help her visit her son in Arizona.

Though tradition has evolved over the years at UNC, it’s up to current – and future – Tar Heels to maintain existing traditions and establish new ones.


Mimi Tomei

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