John Shearer: Seeing Basketball, R.H. Hunt Church And Memorial To Tragedy While In North Carolina

Thursday, December 23, 2021 - by John Shearer

For the first time in two years, I recently took another basketball-related trip to see both the University of North Carolina men and the Duke women play.
 
And I once again had fun.
 
It was my first time to visit that part of the Tar Heel State to enjoy some sports since November 2019, about four months before the COVID-19 pandemic hit the South.
 
As I have mentioned before in previous chronicles of this trip – which might seem like my own version of “Groundhog Day” with the repetition – I go primarily just to relax for a couple of days.

I do like the UNC men’s team and certainly pull for the Tar Heels if they go deep in the NCAA Tournament, but the only college sports team I let myself get a little too carried away with in terms of passion is the Georgia football program of my alma mater.
 
This trip is just strictly to relax, and I have started dubbing it a “sports sabbatical.” I also went this past summer to see my beloved Atlanta Braves (my pro sports passion) in Cincinnati, so I am starting to expand my horizons in this realm.
 
Also, while I was in North Carolina, I visited a church in Durham designed by prolific Chattanooga architect of yesteryear R.H. Hunt, and unintentionally visited some reminders of a promising UNC female student senselessly killed near campus in 2008.
 
I always try to visit one or two places nearby or on the way that I have not before, and I chose these two places. My wife, Laura, had to work and is not a diehard sports fan, so I went alone, but I did not mind traveling by myself for a couple of days.
 
I left my home near Northgate Mall a little after 6:30 a.m. on Tuesday, Dec. 14, and was soon heading north on Interstate 75. I stopped by the Bojangles in Ooltewah and learned it would take six or so minutes to make my cinnamon biscuit, so this busy person who did not have six minutes to spare continued without food.
 
By the time I reached the Hardee’s at Exit 33 just north of Cleveland, I was starving – or at least thought I was. This drive through was not crowded, and I happily ordered a cinnamon roll and a sausage biscuit from a friendly employee. Like those TV commercials that talk about people starting to act like their parents, I had packed some milk in a jar and a Coke in a small cooler to save money. 
 
I hungrily began eating the cinnamon roll, which was good and warm, my only request at fast-food restaurants, and then took my first swig of milk out of my jar. Well, guess what? I had somehow poured buttermilk into it!
 
I like buttermilk when I am making homemade pancakes or biscuits, but not to drink straight out of a jar or glass. But I survived without any milk and enjoyed the savory part of my meal with the Coca-Cola. 
 
A quick call back to my wife at home a few minutes later solved the issue: I had seen only the word “whole” on the milk container I had bought a day or two before, and I did not bother to realize I had gotten “whole” buttermilk instead of whole regular milk. I drove on, thinking that if that is the worst thing that happens to me that day, I will be OK.
 
After driving through the mountains on Interstate 40, I stopped at a drive-through Chick-fil-A a little east of Asheville. I heartily enjoyed it all, although the Waffle Fries could have been a little hotter, and after an additional stop or two at the rest stops, I reached Chapel Hill shortly after 2.
 
I parked at the Carolina Inn, a historic hotel I enjoy staying at because of its nice lobby and proximity to campus, and checked in. I then walked down to the Mediterranean Deli on Franklin Street to enjoy some tiramisu as a well-earned dessert, at least in my eyes. 
 
After a return to my room. I then walked around the UNC campus some. Sometimes I have been there when it was bustling with students and school was still in session, but this time it was mostly empty – other than a few people taking pictures at the landmark Old Well.
 
In thinking of activities to do when a game wasn’t played, I somehow had thought about the promising girl student, Eve Marie Carson, who had been tragically killed in March 2008 after being forced at gunpoint to get money for two young men out of an ATM.
 
I had followed that case on national news, in part because it said she had been a student body president and valedictorian at Clarke Central High School in my former college hometown of Athens, Ga. She evidently had quite a winsome and ingratiating personality and was a prestigious Morehead-Cain Scholar at UNC when the tragedy occurred during her senior year.
 
In 2010, a memorial garden was dedicated behind the campus Y in the Polk Place part of campus in her name and to others who had died while students at the school. As soon as I saw the words “YMCA” on an old building that late Tuesday afternoon, I realized I was at the right place. Very quickly, I saw a plaque and it recognized the Eve Marie Carson Garden in honor of all students who had died while attending the college.
 
It features several plaques and an inscription of an excerpt from a letter she had written to a friend, “Learn from every single being, experience and moment. What joy it is to search for lessons and goodness and enthusiasm in others.”
 
After heading back to my room for a brief stop and with darkness approaching, I took the roughly 15-minute walk up to the Dean Smith Center on the far end of campus. After using a ticket on my phone for the first time here, I entered the arena wearing a mask and quickly went and got a hot dog, popcorn and a Coke and ate them in my seat in the lower part of the upper deck. With about 45 minutes or so left before the start of the game and realizing I wanted something else while saving part of my popcorn, I headed back down to get another hot dog before the lines got too long.
 
And it was while eating my second hot dog that it dawned on me that, except for two tiny pickles on my chicken sandwich at lunch, I had not eaten or seen a single vegetable or piece of fruit all day.
 
When the game against Furman began, the Tar Heel play was not overly palatable to the UNC sports fan’s taste, either, as the Paladins were able to tie the game at halftime, thanks to some good three-point shooting.
 
With a smaller crowd due to the winter break, even though several dozen students were there, someone came on the PA system during an early TV timeout break. He announced that, in the spirit of the giving season, those in the upper deck could make their way down in an orderly fashion and sit in the lower deck.
 
I realized after getting down and sitting a few yards to the side of the pep band to enjoy them that this was done in large part to make the visible lower deck look fuller for the ESPN network cameras. After all, this tradition-rich basketball school did not want to tarnish its image as a basketball crazy place.
 
UNC did come back in the second half and win, 74-61, after leading by close to 20 at one point. The successful coach Roy Williams, whom I missed seeing get an ovation and throw T-shirts to the students, retired after last season. The coach this year is former assistant and former Tar Heel player Hubert Davis. 
 
It is always tough replacing a legend, and UNC fans are closely watching to see how the program will do and are perhaps critiquing coach Davis more closely than they might have coach Williams last year. That is, even though the program was not overly successful the previous two years. A follow-up loss to Kentucky by a large margin on Saturday certainly did not help coach Davis’ honeymoon period.
 
But on this night, UNC enjoyed a respectable victory, and I felt satisfied when I walked out during the cold night and began tromping back through the campus that has now become quite familiar to me. 
 
After I had reached the Carolina Inn, I decided to keep on walking a couple hundred more yards across Franklin Street to Ben and Jerry’s to enjoy an ice cream cone. If I was going to splurge diet wise, I might as well do it big time, I thought. I ordered a dip of Chunky Monkey in a waffle cone and ate it as I walked back to the Carolina Inn partly through campus and while enjoying the buildings at night. I now was able to enjoy a piece of fruit, since it had bananas in it.
 
Although December is not the ideal month to eat ice cream outside, and the ice cream and cone did not taste quite as fresh as at Clumpie’s in Chattanooga, I tried to accentuate the positive by realizing I did not have to worry about it melting.
 
After going back to the hotel, I enjoyed sitting for a few minutes in the nice lobby, where a guest, who I know was not Elton John, played some nice soft music on the piano. I then went to my first-floor room and went to bed.
 
I woke up around 6-ish that Wednesday as I normally do, and jogged around the older parts of campus, in part due to my love of old buildings and getting to run on mostly grass. And when I started, it was as dark as it was when I had eaten my ice cream cone the night before.
 
After finishing and running down Franklin Street to Panera with my credit card and room key in my pocket, I enjoyed a four-cheese souffle and a cinnamon roll. This time I had to pay for a milk and soft drink. They were all good, and I did not feel guilty, since I had run.
 
I got a refill on the soft drink as I left, and then went back to my room to finish up a freelance writing project. As late morning approached, I had become more curious about the tragic Eve Carson incident and saw that her body had been sadly found just a mile or so from campus after someone heard gunshots, so the nosy newsman in me wanted to find where that had taken place.
 
The online stories said she was found in a wooded area where Hillcrest Road and Hillcrest Circle meet, and I drove by there and found sloping wooded areas on each side of the road. It is only about a mile from campus and was a very nice residential area, and residents could be seen walking along the street. 
 
Looking much like a place like Stuart Heights in Chattanooga, with wooded areas surrounding lots, the setting gave no hint of the horrific tragedy that had taken place there more than a decade before.
 
It looked like a fancy yard ornament, perhaps something like a bird bath, was at the edge of one yard by the intersection, and it had a wreath on it. I was not sure if that was just a landscaping decoration or some unofficial memorial. 
 
As I drove back to the Carolina Inn, I contemplated this sad story of promise cut short by two young men whose lives were so out of kilter that they felt a need to rob and ultimately kill her. Where would this young woman who would now be in her mid-30s be today? Would she be a doctor or maybe someone interested in politics, with the right personality to bring people together in a much-needed time? 
 
I then went back to the Carolina Inn and walked down to the Mediterranean Deli to enjoy a chicken gyro, a peanut butter and chocolate brownie, and a sweet tea at a table away from everyone in these COVID times. I happened to notice some extra Tzatziki sauce was available along with other dresssings and relishes, so this extra sauce connoisseur added some to the probably adequate portion they had given me.
 
I enjoyed all the food and was glad to say hello again to such vegetables as tomatoes, lettuce pieces, and bell peppers. I then went back to my room before taking another quick stroll around campus to get some photos of places I had not been able to get the night before when darkness was coming.
 
And at the Eve Marie Carson Garden, I happened to notice a metal butterfly chair I had not noticed the day before. And yes, when I went up to it, her name was inscribed on a metal plate.
 
After resting a little while back at my room, I took the roughly 10-mile trip up to Durham through some busy highway intersections to go visit the First Baptist Church there. I have long been interested in the local buildings designed by Chattanoogan R.H. Hunt – including the County Courthouse, City Hall, Memorial Auditorium and what is now Chattanooga School for the Arts and Sciences.
 
I have also occasionally written about some in other towns that the prolific and far-reaching architect designed, and I happened to see that he had designed one in Durham that was built in 1927.
 
With some correspondence from pastoral administrative assistant Tom Knight, I made plans to tour this one. After I got a little lost going through Durham, and without setting my GPS beforehand, I arrived after seeing some neat historic homes I would have otherwise missed had I not gotten sidetracked.
 
He kindly welcomed me, as did assistant pastor Andy Winn, and I got a neat tour. The church has Greek-style columns on the front and long stained-glass windows on the sides and does not look like any Chattanooga church he designed. But it does favor some in other cities I have seen or seen pictures of.
 
The Durham church once had a horseshoe-shaped balcony, similar to that at Memorial Auditorium, but the sides of the balcony were reduced in later years, perhaps to let the stained-glass windows be more visible.
 
Rev. Winn also went and got the old plans the church has, and there was R.H. Hunt’s name on the corners of the old pages along with the initials of those who assisted with drafting and other work.
 
The church has done some nice and thorough updating in recent years, and the downtown area church looks ready to last a few more years and continue to leave a reminder of Mr. Hunt’s talents.
 
There were a couple of now-hidden stairways no longer used as well as an older basement boiler taken offline, and those were fascinating to see. Overall, though, the church seems to have greatly enjoyed and taken advantage of Mr. Hunt’s design over the years.
 
As Rev. Winn told me, “I love the architecture. I love the fact it communicates we’ve been here a while. It communicates a long-standing, gospel-centered witness we’ve had in the community.”
 
He added that a lot of churches in the area would also love to have a facility like this one that seats 800 people.
 
Mr. Knight as well hinted at Mr. Hunt’s original intention with the design, saying, “When they built this building in 1927, they made a real statement. It demonstrates permanence.”
 
After a few more enjoyable minutes hearing about this church’s history and obviously still-vibrant ministry, I headed out to my next destination with some help from Mr. Knight. The place I was headed might be familiar to a few sports fans – Cameron Indoor Stadium.
 
Yes, that is the home of the Duke men’s basketball team, where Coach K – Mike Krzyzewski -- has been successfully holding court for 40 years. This, of course, is his last season, and tickets are obviously in high demand for the men’s games, as they have been for years.
 
I was going to see the Duke women play top-ranked South Carolina. Duke is now coached by former Tennessee Lady Vol great Kara Lawson, so I had an additional reason to pull for Duke a little. I know this sounds crazy pulling for UNC and Duke, but that was what I was doing.
 
After walking through campus shortly before dark and with game time still more than 90 minutes away, I decided to go past the historic Cameron facility and see the Duke chapel a few hundred yards away. 
 
I walked in and sat down in the mammoth Gothic structure and just soaked in the surroundings for a few minutes. I had been there before in 2018 a littler earlier in December, and a Duke choir was rehearsing, but this time less than 10 visitors were inside. But it was still quite uplifting being in there amid only silence.
 
I had also noticed that the statue to Robert E. Lee along an entrance wall had been removed as places are reckoning more with their past. 
 
I then headed back over to Cameron and got in line to go in at 6 when they opened. Unlike at UNC’s Smith Center, here you had to show proof of vaccination before entering. I had somehow managed to upload a photo of my vaccination card before traveling, and I was able to get inside.
 
I quickly got a hot dog, Coke and popcorn, and noticed the food items were a little hotter than at UNC. I ate them in my corner seat in the upper deck of this much smaller arena as fans slowly arrived. Unlike other sparsely attended women’s games I had been to at Duke and UNC over the years, this one would be about 70 percent or so full, with nearly half of them SC fans. And I was also near the Duke band, so I was going to get to enjoy some musical entertainment as well as sports excitement.
 
With the crowd and other reasons, this good little boy decided not to get a second hot dog or anything else.
 
In the game, South Carolina, which had several tall and no doubt highly recruited players, jumped to a big lead on Duke. But the Blue Devils under coach Lawson managed to fight back and cut the lead to close to 10 or less late in the game. But South Carolina proved too much and won, 55-46. 
 
It was neat watching South Carolina coach Dawn Staley, who is known for her fashionable clothing (she had LO-VE written on this outfit) and outstanding coaching. She has obviously filled the void quite well of being the dominant SEC women’s coach since the late Pat Summitt was forced to retire in 2012 due to the onset of dementia.
 
Coach Staley often holds a rolled-up paper or program in her hand and was a little more demonstrative during the game than the more-stoic coach Lawson, although I do not know their demeanors in practice or team meetings. In this game, coach Lawson seemed to do a good job getting her players to perform despite obviously not having as much talent, so maybe the Duke women are in good hands.
 
The ushers were also taking control, with strict mask policies for everyone not eating. One usher had to go up to an older South Carolina male fan not wearing his, and the man kept trying to say something to the usher, maybe that he had been vaccinated and boosted. But as soon as the usher walked away, his mask came back off.
 
It should be noted that the UNC women’s home game scheduled for that same night was canceled because of COVID issues with opponent Jacksonville.
 
After enjoying the Duke game and the historic Cameron Indoor Stadium, I then took another walk of a few hundred yards back to the parking garage. Needless to say, my walking muscles were getting rather sore by this time, and I felt more like a player who had expended energy than a fan.
 
Seemingly everyone had parked in this particular garage by Science Drive, but we all slowly exited in our warm vehicles and I got back to UNC more quickly than I had come over during the busy daylight hours.
 
I enjoyed a few last minutes in the Carolina Inn lobby before going to bed, and then got up and took one last jog around the old part of campus. I went by once again a new favorite space on campus – the Eve Marie Carson memorial garden.
 
I also stopped yet again at the landmark Old Well, and I was disappointed the water fountain was not working as it usually does, even in winter. Perhaps it was turned off for COVID-related health concerns.
 
It was then time to head back to Chattanooga via a tour of an old home in Knoxville I was writing about. But not before I enjoyed a breakfast stop at Bojangles just outside Chapel Hill, where I found the cinnamon sticks and biscuit gravy perfectly hot!
 
The whole trip once again warmed my heart, too!

* * * 

Jcshearer2@comcast.net


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