As the first publicly chartered university in America, UNC-Chapel Hill has become a nationally recognized institution for its excellence in teaching, research, and public service. But as Carolina has grown as an academic heavyweight, athletics at the school became formidable program in their own right. They hold an impressive 43 NCAA Division I titles, tied in 8th place with Louisiana State University for that honor. No other North Carolina school makes the top ten title holders list. And in every sport, Carolina has an outstanding athlete or coach tale to tell. The names in those stories are legendary — Michael Jordan, Mia Hamm, Davis Love III, Lawrence Taylor, B.J. Surhoff, Roy Williams, Marion Jones, and the list goes on.
Today, UNC athletics offers 28 varsity teams, including both a men’s and women’s track-and-field team. The UNC track-and-field program has a history that spans over 100 years. One of the school’s very first major athletic wins came from track-and-field in 1901, when they took home the trophy in the Southern Intercollegiate Athletic Association meet.
Among outstanding Carolina track-and-field alums are Jim Beatty, the first person to break the four-minute mile barrier on an indoor track in 1962. And there’s Shalane Flanagan who holds the American record times in the 3000 m and 5000 m indoor race and the 15 k road race. She also won a bronze at the 2008 Olympics. These athletes, and so many others, have set the bar high and today draw scores of talented young runners to the university each year.
But the ribbons and trophies are not the only reason that UNC has invested in the sport. The UNC athletics website proudly proclaims that “we believe athletics are a conduit for knowledge and inspiration.”
In addition to physical benefits, athletics have the power to unite fans, bridge social and cultural divides, and teach valuable lessons about sportsmanship, leadership, initiative, and perseverance. They generate a strong sense of school pride and offer a window to other successes on campus – the academic achievements that occur off the court and field.
A Bright Future
When the John William Pope Foundation was formed in 1986, gifts to UNC athletics were among the first issued, because the late John William Pope and his family inherently understood the value of sports programs at institutions of higher learning. Over the years, the Pope Foundation and family have supported a wide range of sports and capital projects within university’s athletic department.
Previous gifts to UNC athletics include $1.6 million for an indoor training facility in 2000, $2 million for an assistant football coach’s endowment in 2006, and $3 million for a student athlete academic center in 2011. The legacy of support continued on April 23, 2018, when the Pope Foundation announced that $1 million of a $10 million commitment to Carolina was marked for the track-and-field program. With the gift, a scholarship endowment will be created to support one male and one female track and field athlete.
At the announcement held at UNC-Chapel Hill, Athletic Director Bubba Cunningham spoke about the impact the gift will have on the program.
“Carolina has a long history of excellence in track and field, and this generous gift from the Pope Foundation will add to that tradition,” said Cunningham. “It will enable us to recruit the very best student-athletes in the sport, and it will help us continue to compete at the highest level.”
Highlighting UNC-Chapel Hill’s track-and-field success, 2018 NCAA women’s high jump champion Nicole Greene was on hand at the April 23 grant announcement. Her win marked the first national championship title for Carolina’s track-and-field since 2007. With athletes like Greene, it’s clear that track-and-field is a powerhouse program with staying power.