Learning to Win: Sports, Education, and Social Change in Twentieth-Century North Carolina

By Pamela Grundy | Go to book overview

CHAPTER NINE
The Seat of the Trouble
Athletes, Cheerleaders, and
Civil Rights, 1938–1971

In early February 1968 the starting fives for the North Carolina State Wolfpack and the University of North Carolina Tar Heels trotted out onto the Reynolds Coliseum floor, prepared for yet another episode in a long and heated rivalry. Despite a freezing storm that had closed the public schools and turned roads into treacherous sheets of ice, Reynolds, as always, was packed full with loyal Wolfpack fans. The lights of Everett Case's applause meter flickered up and down to the rhythm of their cheers, and as the players readied themselves for the opening jump ball, the air tingled with a familiar anticipation. But there was a major difference on the floor that night, a difference obvious to everyone in the arena. For the first time in the schools' half-century of basketball rivalry, the players ringed around the center line were not all white. UNC sophomore Charlie Scott, a slender, 6′6″ African American forward, would be the focus of attention for much of the night, in part for his great skill and in part for his race. The game was a dogged battle that, in the estimation of the Daily Tar Heel, “looked more like the roller derby than it did a basketball game,” and which the Tar Heels won by the close and relatively low score of 68-66. Amid the shoving and shouting, Scott found himself the target not only of State players' elbows but of some State fans' insults. As the Daily Tar Heel discreetly put it, “‘Hey Leroy, show us your stuff,’ was one of the nicer things yelled at Scott.” 1

Charlie Scott's much-publicized Tar Heel career marked a turning point in North Carolina, the beginning of a transformation in the way many state residents thought about their flagship university and its most venerated team. The Reynolds Coliseum game, in which one group of North Carolinians rallied behind a black player while a handful of others sought refuge in racial epithets, spotlighted the uneven movements of a society in uneasy transition. Scott's breach of a long-held color line outraged some North Carolinians. UNC coach

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