Whether or not football actually happens this season, something that will be drastically different will be the sounds emanating from Kenan Stadium. Even before students were on campus, the ACC and UNC determined that they wouldn’t have marching bands on the field in order to further protect the players. Between the fact it would be difficult to have a band socially distant in the stands and that by their very nature, they are projecting aerosolized particles into the air in order to create the sound, the decision to not have bands was inevitable.
It hurts for the kids, though. They had their basketball seasons cut short earlier this year, and now a senior class has to deal with the fact that they’ve run out onto the field at Kenan for the last time. It’s just one of many similar stories around campus this fall as everyone tries to navigate what 2020 has brought us.
So what does this have to do with Dean Smith and Vince Dooley? Well, in order to give these students something special in place of performing for the year, the Pride of the ACC has been producing a weekly show. Each section will get a feature, a performance will be shown so that friends, family, and fans will at least get some form of the college football experience for 2020, and various alumni are interviewed and provide updates on what they are doing as well as stories from the past. Those stories show just how much athletics and the band are intertwined, especially since the Tar Heels have had fewer head band directors (3) in the past fifty years than basketball coaches (4).
The show is called “The Pride of the ACC” and had their second episode go up on Friday. It’s hosted by current Director of Bands Jeff Fuchs and POTACC alumnus, as well as former interview guest of this site, Adam Pohl. The style of the show is inspired by typical coaching TV highlight shows, where Fuchs would be your Dean Smith, and Pohl would be John Kilgo. In an age starved for content, it’s absolutely worth a watch to get some nuggets of history, as well as an inside look at what goes into the band providing the sound you hear during games.
Episode two is where our focus comes in. The alumnus interviewed is Allen Reep, who was at Carolina right as Dean Smith had turned the basketball program around. Late he would became the right hand man to the director at the time, John Yesulaitis, also known as “Major Y.” Incidentally, I happened to win the award named after Major Y after my senior year at Carolina because of all the athletic events I played at during my carrer, which was a huge honor and a big indication of my (lack of) social life while I was in Chapel Hill.
The episode itself has some great anecdotes from Reep about what life was like for the band in the late 60’s and 70’s, as well as one great story about the time the band got a technical foul and Dean Smith had to talk to Major Y about it. As tends to happen when you want to try to package a show together, some stuff couldn’t make the main cut, and on Saturday, Adam tweeted out this story that rings even louder today considering our current moment.
I got to speak with @UNC grad Allen Reep who tell this incredible story of how Dean Smith got the band to stop playing Dixie when the team took the floor with Charlie Scott on the team.— Adam Pohl (@PohlAdam) August 22, 2020
Here Comes Carolina is still played when team hits the court/field to this day. @UNC_Bands pic.twitter.com/RRqO3LYzYo
I’m sure I’m not the only one who had no clue that it was a tradition for the Marching Tar Heels to play “Dixie” as they entered Kenan Stadium. “Here Comes Carolina” seems so synonymous with the band that it’s unreal to think about people getting just as fired up for “Dixie.” It’s yet another example of the type of man Dean Smith was and the power that he had, even in the late 60’s, to just say “it isn't right for you to play this song, and for the sake of Charles Scott, we need to not play it.” That move led to Vince Dooley and Major Y talking, as Dooley had also heard from some of his African American players who were uncomfortable with the song being played. Thus, in a time when it had to be really tough to thumb the nose at a southern tradition, “Dixie” went to the scrap heap well before a lot of other schools had to examine their traditions rooted in implicit and explicit racism.
One can only imagine the outrage and furor that would have happened had the tradition continued and would only now be examined in the wake of dorms having their names removed and Silent Sam still sitting in storage somewhere. Even then, being the target of a Jesse Helms commentary on WRAL was a big deal. The UNC Library doesn’t have his commentaries digitized, partly due to copyright issues, but it would be interesting to study them to find the one where he specifically mentioned the band no longer playing “Dixie.”
So next year when things, hopefully, return to normal and the Marching Tar Heels welcome you to the game with “Here Comes Carolina,” give a nod of thanks to Dean Smith, Major Y, and Vince Dooley. Five decades later you can’t think of any other way to welcome the Tar Heels onto the field.
“Pride of the ACC” comes out Friday nights at 7 on YouTube (UNC Bands), Facebook (UNC Bands), Instagram (UNC_Bands), and Twitter (@UNC_Bands) for those who will be missing their bands fix this fall, those considering joining, or those just interested in UNC history.