From Chapter Six ...
For many Carolina fans, family relationships have played a central role in their experience as a fan. Numerous respondents spoke of relationships with fathers in particular as being among their most cherished memories of being a Carolina fan, while others spoke of the family bonding benefits of Carolina basketball in a more general way. Consider these comments.
- "Carolina basketball serves as a link in my family. It has always been something that I could communicate with my father, my brothers, and my own children about. I truly can't imagine what would have taken the place of Carolina basketball over all these years."--Richard Hickman, 45, teacher in Ocean Isle Beach, NC
- "It's the one big thing my Dad and I could share equally and agree on always. How can you beat that?"--Steve Stover 37, Chapel Hill native living in Los Angeles
- "Before my father died, he would occasionally mention that he wanted his ashes spread around the campus, but would especially mention the Dean Dome floor. A few months after his death, my sister and I began to spread his ashes and started in the Dean Dome. There was a cheerleading competition (of all things) among young girls from around the state, so I had to get creative. I needed to get down to the floor, so I used one of my kid's Happy Meal toys that remotely resembled a camera. I walked confidently up under one of the goals, kneeled down, acted like I was taking a picture, and poured a small vial of his ashes under the goal . . .
"Putting some of my father's ashes on the Dean Dome floor was powerful. As a young man, the whole NC Basketball aura seemed so much larger than life. My father introduced me to NC basketball, it provided a unique way for us to bond. He had a extremely confident manner and would walk right out on the floor during warm-ups to meet/see the players and coaches. He would take me down with him at times to show me how big the players were, atmosphere on the floor etc. It was extremely exciting for a kid to walk with the big guys. I will do the same with my son when he is older."--Scott Ashcraft, 33, archaeologist in Asheville
Nearly half of Carolina fans, in fact, report that their parents had a role in their becoming a fan. And most Carolina fans intend to at least try to pass their fanhood on to their children, as Table 22 reports.
Table 22. The Generational Transmission of North Carolina Basketball
Percentage of Fans Who Say Their Parents Played a Role in Their Following Carolina
Yes 46.3% No 53.7%
Percentage of Fans Who Say It Is Important That Their Children Become UNC Fans
Yes 71.9% No 28.1%
The responses to these questions were often interesting, even poignant. Many of those who said "no" to the question about passing on fanhood to children mentioned that children should have their own choice about whom to follow, and some volunteered the view that trying to make their children fans would in fact be counterproductive. But most respondents said it would be important for their children to become fans--although many of these, too, said it would not be the end of the world if that didn't happen. Other fans said they didn't care if their children became Carolina fans or not, just so long as they didn't become Duke fans.
Consider this sample of responses to survey questions about passing Carolina hoops from generation to generation:
- "Watching the games with my parents was always fun. Even when I went through the difficult teen years and `hated' them, we could always watch games together."--Mike p. Burton, 31, comic in New York. Mike added that as far as his future kids were concerned, "Actually, I just hope they have something to follow as much as I do UNC."
- On her children growing up Carolina fans: "They will. Oh yes, they will. Their baby formula will be mixed with water from the Old Well!"--Susan E. Harper, 26, event planner in Chicago
- "We will fail to bond on some fundamental level if they [my children] do not share my love for the Heels."–Jeff Langenderfer, 38, college professor in Rome, Georgia
- On whether her children will become fans: "Unless they wanted to become street urchins, yes." Karen Lee, 39, UNC alum in Greenville, NC
The notion that spectator sports are often a vehicle for shared family relationships, particularly father-son relationships, is well established in the sociological literature on sports and well attested by common observation. Stories like the ones told above by North Carolina basketball fans--including the common expectation that Carolina fanhood will be passed on to the next generation--are probably not all that exceptional compared to what a study of fan allegiances for another team would show. Nonetheless, the tangible role sports often play in helping bond families across generational barriers is a morally important fact that should not be taken lightly or for granted.