Sports and Social Change
The NCAA championship game had wound down to its final moments as the UNC Tar Heels, trailing, set up for one last play. The spectators that packed the large arena, exhausted but exhilarated by the contest they had witnessed, leaned forward in anticipation, and in homes across the country eager viewers fixed their eyes on television screens. The defenders ranged themselves around the basket, the ball came into bounds, and as countless Tar Heel supporters held their breath, it rested for an instant in the hands of player number 23, who then sent it arching toward the goal. The net shook briefly as the ball fell through the center of the rim. Charlotte Smith, who had just won the Lady Tar Heels their first national championship, fell to the floor in joy.
Charlotte Smith's winning basket, along with the statewide celebration that ensued, offered one example of the many changes that North Carolina sports had undergone during the previous century. During the 1950s, North Carolina women's basketball had been swept out of the public eye, pressed by shifts in popular culture and state society that devastated women's sports, even as they raised male athletes to new heights of prestige and popularity. But in the 1970s, as a broad-based women's movement built up around the country, women's athletics took on renewed significance. Like their predecessors early in the century, female activists saw sports as a way for women to throw off physical and emotional restrictions, developing skills, pride, and confidence. They also launched a long and hard-fought battle for a place in the public spotlight, amid the high school and college teams that commanded such widespread attention and respect. The resulting transformations, highlighted by the Lady Tar Heels' 1994 national title, underscored the connections between athletics and the dynamic process by which North Carolinians—and Americans in general—have made and remade their social institutions and themselves. A century of athletic endeavor charts a complex web of interactions, illuminating the many ways