85 And Counting
Then, the Heels faced their arch-rival Virginia and the game, as tradition demanded, was played on Thanksgiving Day. Now, it was not the first game in Kenan. That one was back on November 12 when Carolina thrashed Davidson 27-0. Saturday, the 24th, was when Kenan Memorial Stadium was “officially” dedicated.
To prepare, I visited the North Carolina Collection in Wilson Library and with a November 24, 1927 DTH in front of me, I totally lost myself in the photos, stories and advertisements from the paper’s 16-page special edition. Within, I learned that before the 2:00 PM kick-off, one could catch Laura La Plante starring in “Silk Stockings” down at the Carolina Theatre. Pritchard-Patterson University Outfitters could put you in a suit for as little as $35. Foister’s suggested trying their “up-to-date” soda fountain and Sutton and Alderman’s Drug Store trumpeted itself as “The Student’s Drug Store.”
Back on the 12th, some 9,000 attended the Davidson game but this day was different. Capacity in Kenan was 24,000. And 28,000 showed up—10 times the student body. All 41 tiers in each of the 12 sections were filled and some 4,000 more searched for any vantage point. For all, there were four lavatory buildings—two for men and two for women. Ouch!
At 1:30, the Dedication Program began with the presentation of the $303,000 stadium and field house. Durham’s John Sprunt Hill represented the prominent New York engineer and member of the UNC Class of 1894, William Rand Kenan, Jr. After a few words, Hill presented Kenan Memorial to the state which was represented by North Carolina Governor Angus W. McLean. All rose for “Hark the Sound,” and then steeled themselves for the kick-off. McLean was not the only governor there. So was Virginia Governor Harry Byrd. So was WPTF Radio. Their planned play-by-play was thought to be the first university athletic contest broadcast live from Chapel Hill.
It was the 32nd meeting between the rivals and the DTH didn’t miss a trick. They reported the average weight of the Cavalier team was 180 pounds. NC 175. For the light-blue faithful, there was reward as Carolina went into the half holding a 14-0 lead. That lead held up during a scoreless third quarter but the last stanza provided some drama. Virginia scored twice in the last 15 minutes but a missed extra point allowed UNC to escape with a 14-13 victory.
The win capped a special day in the stadium named for Kenan’s beloved parents, Mary Hargrave and William Rand Kenan. While reading about this day and game, I drifted back to a simpler time—to a time when even the sports writing read like transcendental literature. One DTH writer described the approach to the “University’s vast grid temple” like this, “Coming upon the structure after a short walk through surrounding woods, one receives a striking impression. The entire effect is magnificent. The soft white of man-made concrete, rising in twin crescents of either side of a playing field of velvet green, stands in bold relief against the verdure of North State pines.”
And yet, not was all bucolic, for even then, in an article dated November 12th, the DTH reported that football coaches “stoutly” denied rumors “circulating to the effect that over half of the members of the varsity football squad were ineligible to play” in the Davidson game.
Another instance that reminds us of, seemingly, an ageless struggle. It is one with which we’re all too familiar—the delicate and, sometimes, tempestuous balance between academics and athletics. And its twin, the disputed and debated paths to generate and raise revenue. Yes, an issue 85 years ago, and, sadly, today. Just ask the folks at UNC. Just ask Maryland.
Enjoy the game.