With 45 team national championships across all sports and decades of success in many of them, tons of legendary athletes have come through North Carolina over the years. That’s evidenced by the dozens of Tar Heels have been named All-Americans in their various sports over the years.
However to continue with our “Tar Heel Firsts” series, let’s go back and look at who were the first players bestowed with this honor in the various sports.
The most famous team at the school is probably the men’s basketball team, and their most famous player is Michael Jordan. However decades before he won pretty much all there is to win, Cartwright Carmichael was UNC’s first basketball All-American.
Carmichael first came to the school in 1922, helping Carolina to their first ever Southern Conference championship. The next year is when they really got going, as the team went 15-1, with Carmichael being named All-American. The following year he repeated that individual feat as they went undefeated and were named national champions by the Helms Foundation.
Also yes, his last name is the one that adorns Carmichael Auditorium/Arena, although it was technicality named after his brother, who was also a member of the basketball team and a vice-president of the university.
While men’s basketball is the most famous team at the school, women’s soccer is the most successful. Before Anson Dorrance’s squad every won a NCAA title, before there even was an NCAA title to win, their first All-American came in 1980.
In the second year of the women’s soccer team, Nancy Clary made first team all-american. A transfer from Mary Washington College where she played basketball, Clary helped the Tar Heels to AIAW Tournament semifinals. The following year, UNC won the AIAW title and then went on to win 12 of the first 13 NCAA Tournaments.
As for the other sport that people call “football,” Ray Farris was the first UNC player to become All-American in the American variant. Farris played for Carolina from 1927-29, and the last of those seasons is when he and the team had a big season to earn those honors.
After helping UNC to a 9-1 season where they were the third highest schoring team in the country, Farris was named third team All-American as a guard. Farris was captain for that squad who improved from just a five-win season the year before.
For our last first All-American, let’s go to the women’s basketball team.
The women’s team’s first season under the direction of the athletic department was 1974-75 and they found some success pretty quickly. In their first ever season, they made the National Women’s Invitational Tournament, in the days before an NCAA Tournament for women’s teams existed.
In that first season, they were led by Marsha Mann. She led the Tar Heels in both scoring and rebounds, 17.0 and 9.8 per game, respectively, as the team went 15-3 under coach Angela Lumpkin.
All four of those sports have had plenty of other All-Americans in the seasons since these four became the first for their respective teams. However, you have to start somewhere, and there are your sporting forebearers.
“Carolina Basketball: A Century of Excellence” by Adam Lucas
“The Man Watching: Anson Dorrance and the University of North Carolina Women’s Soccer Dynasty” by Tim Crothers