RAMblings 7.14.08 - A Run Through TitleTown
by Lee Pace

One of my favorite rituals is a five-mile run around campus and Franklin Street early on Sunday mornings. Everyone else is still asleep, there’s no traffic and the afternoon sauna has yet to materialize.

I start at the old Kenan Field House, make my way past Boshamer Stadium and the Law School to central campus, make a lap around the central campus/McCorkle Place block and then head west on Franklin Street to the Courtyard. I turn left and run a block to Cameron Avenue, then wind my way through the Westside neighborhood, the hospital complex and back to Kenan Stadium.

My mind wanders hither and yon for these 40 some-odd minutes, and this week I was ruminating about the “TitleTown USA” storyline that ESPN is featuring this summer. Its SportsCenter program is traveling to 20 communities with vaunted sports heritages and attempting to anoint one as “TitleTown USA.”

I thought Green Bay was holding in there fine as the original and incumbent TitleTown (I’m a Packer fan from way back; my youth league team in the 1960s was outfitted in Green Bay Gold). But ESPN is auditioning other big-league cities (as in Boston with its run of Patriot-Sox-Celtics titles of recent years); other college towns (Gainesville has been home to back-to-back University of Florida championships in football and men’s basketball); and even high-school hotbeds such as Massillon, Ohio (where Washington High has collected 22 state football titles).

Chapel Hill can certainly make a strong case as my Sunday morning jaunt reminds me with each stride:

On my right is Boshamer Stadium, not yet the home of a national champion but certainly a contender in the future with the College World Series presence of the 2006-08 baseball Tar Heels.

On my left is Frances Henry Stadium, home of coach Karen Shelton’s juggernaut field hockey program葉he reigning NCAA champion and a five-time national titlist since Shelton began leading the program in 1981.

Soon I turn left on Raleigh Road and skirt past Carmichael Auditorium and, beyond it to the left, Fetzer Field.

Carmichael, like Boshamer Stadium presently undergoing a significant physical makeover, was a cauldron of excellence for decades as Dean Smith’s vaunted basketball program rose to national heights, including the 1982 championship squad led by Michael Jordan, James Worthy and Sam Perkins. Not to be overlooked is the 1994 women’s team that finished first on Charlotte Smith’s electrifying shot at the buzzer.

Fetzer Field was the incubator for a brand new women’s soccer program in the early 1980s, and coach Anson Dorrance led it so superbly that the Tar Heels established a dynasty out of the gate and have collected 19 national titles over 26 years and spawned megastars in the game like Mia Hamm.

After the women’s soccer team bids adieu to Fetzer each November, the springtime gives way to men’s lacrosse, a sport the Tar Heels have mastered as NCAA champions four times葉hree under coach Willie Scroggs and one under Dave Klamann. A coaching change is in the offing for the Tar Heels, and the new leader, Joe Breschi, is a former Tar Heel himself and was an assistant coach the last time the Heels won the NCAA. So he knows a thing or two about TitleTown.

Franklin Street at eight o’clock on a weekend morning is a sublime place, the early morning sun casting a warm glow on the old buildings and the aroma of Ye Olde Waffle Shop’s delights wafting in the air. I think back to Final Four celebrations用ost Georgetown in 1982 and post Illinois in 2005. Thankfully, I was on Bourbon Street myself in 1993 after the Michigan triumph.

My run nears its end as I turn left from Manning Drive onto Ridge Road, looking far to the right and the Smith Center sitting in the distance. SportsCenter telecast its Chapel Hill spot from the new basketball museum a couple of weeks ago and interviewed Roy Williams about the specter of Tar Heel hoops and the broad scope of Carolina’s athletic excellence.

“We have a chance to win the national championship in several sports every year,” Williams says. “To me, that’s title town.”

I finish with a sprint through the parking area beside the old Kenan Field House, then cool down by walking around the hedges surrounding the football field. On fall mornings at this time, youth groups are cleaning up the debris from the previous day’s football game. Curiously, this is Chapel Hill’s most noted venue but the one without a title葉he personages of Charlie Justice, Don McCauley, Lawrence Taylor and Julius Peppers notwithstanding.

In just two months, the old venue will be filled once again; this year, all season tickets have been sold. Hope springs eternal once again for the Tar Heel faithful葉his time the vision of one Butch Davis providing the catalyst. There’s a missing link to Carolina’s TitleTown campaign, for sure, and as I drink my water and stretch my hamstrings, I’m anxious once again for the storyline of another football season to unfold.


            (Follow this link starting July 24 to vote to for Chapel Hill: http://sports.espn.go.com/espn/titletown/index).