VARSITY TEAMS: 25
INTRAMURAL SPORTS: 26
FAMOUS ALUMNI: MIA HAMM, MICHAEL JORDAN, LAWRENCE TAYLOR
EXTRA CREDIT FOR: NAPOLEON HOOPS, FOR MALE STUDENTS UNDER SIX FEET
Some folks in Chapel Hill are still trying to figure out which came first—the color of the sky or the color of the uniforms worn by North Carolina's athletes. In showing their devotion to those athletes, locals heed a simple rule of decor: If it ain't painted sky blue, it ain't painted.
That rule governs the campus too. From the rafters of the Dean E. Smith Center to the track at Fetzer Field to the windows in Woollen Gymnasium, the ubiquitousness of the color is symbolic of just how wide and deep runs the passion for sports. "Athletics is Carolina, Carolina is athletics," says junior Marion Jones, who is not only an All-America in women's basketball but also finished fourth in the long jump at the 1995 NCAA track and field championships. "Everywhere you turn, there's something to do, something to watch." Typical of North Carolina's students is freshman Robby Spencer, a self-described "sports freak" from Hendersonville, N.C., who since last fall has attended basketball, football, soccer and volleyball games and has played intramural basketball, soccer, volleyball and Wiffle ball. "That's all I've had time for," he says glumly.
Every school in the country would love to count Michael Jordan. Sam Perkins and James Worth among its alumni. At North Carolina those guys played on the same team. Eight national players of the year have played men's basketball for the Tar Heels, who have reached 14 Final Fours and won four national titles. Dean Smith is Division I basketball's winningest coach (879 victories and counting). Yet men's hoops might be only the second-most successful athletic program at North Carolina. There have been 15 NCAA championships won in the history of women's soccer, and the Tar Heels own 13 of them. As for other sports, the men's lacrosse team has won four national titles and the field hockey team, three. The women's basketball team won the 1994 championship game on one of the most memorable plays of the decade, a last-second three-pointer by Charlotte Smith—wearing, naturally, number 23—that gave the Tar Heels a 59-57 victory over Louisiana Tech.
In recent times the level of intramural and club sports activity in Chapel Hill has threatened to outstrip the facilities. But six years ago students overwhelmingly passed a referendum to raise student fees to build a new, two-level rec center. Last year marked the opening of the new Outdoor Education Center, which otters ropes courses, mountain-bike trails, an 18-hole Frisbee golf course and the longest zipline (a cable that students ride down, boot-camp style, while hanging from a pulley) in the U.S.
When students aren't watching one sporting event or playing in another, they can step onto Franklin Street and partake in that most traditional of collegiate activities: the beer lift. Choice seating for basketball telecasts is located at Four Corners restaurant and bar, named for the numbingly effective delay offense Smith employed before the advent of the shot clock. For games not on local TV, there's the North Carolina Sports Bar on West Franklin, which has 10 satellite receivers and an area for shooting free throws.
"Athletics on campus was one reason I came here," says sophomore Regina Healy, the president of the field hockey club. "I wanted to get involved as much as possible, to try to make a big university seem a little bit smaller." The heavy participation in sports does make 24,439-student North Carolina seem much more intimate and friendly, though as jock schools go, it looms large.