On Thanksgiving Day in 1927, UNC was thankful for a new stadium

Field Pass for the dedication game at Kenan Stadium, signed by C.T. Woolen. From the Department of Athletics Records (#40093) University Archives.
Field Pass for the dedication game at Kenan Stadium, signed by Charles T. Woollen. From the Department of Athletics Records (#40093) University Archives.
Letter from an alumnus to Dr. Foy Roberson, 1926. From the Department of Athletics Records (#40093), University Archives.

The final football game of UNC’s 1925 season was against the University of Virginia, as was tradition. It was played at UNC, on a field that could hold around 2,5o0 spectators. However, 16,000 spectators came to the game. The lack of space was a persistent problem, and UNC was unable to play many of the more prominent Universities in the South because of it. After the 1925 UNC-UVA game, alumni began actively corresponding with each other about the need for a new, larger stadium and ways provide the new stadium at no cost to the University. Dr. Foy Roberson, who later became secretary of the Stadium Committee, stated in one of his letters to a fellow alumnus that “We purposely placed the meeting in Durham, because we did not want the people over the State to feel that the movement was being sponsored by the University itself.”

Initially, the plan was to build a stadium for 33,500 people on a budget between $475,000 and $500,000. The initial architectural plans for the stadium also allowed for later additions if necessary without compromising the uniformity of the design. The money was to be raised by having alumni and friends of the university subscribe to stadium seating. The subscription would give alumni guaranteed seats for the “Big Games” for a set number of years. The greater the donation, the better the seats and the longer the term the seats would be reserved for. However, this subscription plan was never needed.

William Rand Kenan, Jr. had always intended to make a donation to the University of North Carolina as a memorial to his parents. Kenan recognized the need for a much larger stadium and worked with the Stadium Committee and the University Athletic Council to make it happen in time for the Thanksgiving Day game in 1927. Most of the correspondence concerning the stadium during the planning and construction was between Mr. Kenan and the Graduate Manager of Athletics, Mr. Charles T. Woollen.

Photo of Kenan Memorial Stadium concept drawing in L'As a French Magazine (from the Department of Athletics of the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Records, 1919-1997, #40093, University Archives)
Photo of Kenan Stadium concept drawing in L’As, a French sports magazine. From from the Department of Athletics Records (#40093) University Archives.

Kenan decided to use the existing architectural plan, with the option to later expand the seating, decided upon by the Stadium Committee, but with a capacity of 24,000 and on a budget of $275,000. This budget included a memorial to Mr. Kenan’s parents. However, during construction they decided to add a Field House which “…not only provides excellent quarters for the teams, but makes it possible for us to extend hospitality to visiting teams in a way that we have not been able to do in the past.” (Letter to Kenan from the Secretary of the University Athletic Council October 8, 1927, in the Department of Athletics Records #40093, University Archives).

The addition of the Field House put the final cost of the Stadium at $303,190.76, which Mr. Kenan paid for in its entirety. The stadium was dedicated on Thanksgiving Day, Thursday, November 24, 1927 where the Tar Heels beat the University of Virginia Cavaliers, 14-13.



Football Banned!

When football arrived on southern college campuses in the late 1870s, it was not without controversy. Some in the South resented the sport’s northern roots, while many others–especially religious leaders–feared that it put players and spectators in unnecessary physical and moral danger. In 1890, the administration of UNC was starting to agree, and after just two seasons of intercollegiate football, the Board of Trustees banned competition with other schools, citing the disorder and injury the game encouraged.

A football game in the early 1900s (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection #P0004, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive)
A football game in the early 1900s (University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill Image Collection #P0004, North Carolina Collection Photographic Archive)

UNC organized its first intramural football teams in the 1880s, and by the end of that decade football was one of the most popular sports on campus. In 1888, UNC competed against Wake Forest in the first documented intercollegiate football game in the South. Spectators reported that the game was disorderly and confused, as neither team had a firm grasp on the rules of the game, and UNC lost 6 to 4. Competition was largely unregulated–there were almost no limits as to who could join the team on the field, and games sometimes dissolved into fights. Within the span of a year, three students suffered serious injuries on the football field–the team’s captain, Steve Bragaw, broke his leg in a game against Trinity (now Duke), and in the following season, student George Graham broke his collar bone and another student broke his wrist. In 1889, the university called for all games to be played on college grounds, hoping that greater supervision might rein in the disorder. When this failed, the faculty recommended a ban, and it was passed by the Board of Trustees on February 20, 1890.

The Board explained that while intercollegiate games were said to encourage exercise, foster inter-institutional relationships, and encourage “the boys of the country” to pursue a college education, the “necessary evils” of the sport “over balanced the benefits.” The Board argued that the sport’s impact on exercise was limited as only a few actually played, while many more neglected their studies to sit and watch. Citing player injuries, they argued that the game was physically dangerous and expressed fear that “the furious rivalry engendered by contests in presence of numerous spectators” encouraged brutality, conflict, and “hatreds” between schools. They not only feared for the students’ physical safety but also their morality, citing the “great deal of betting” that accompanied intercollegiate contests and expressing worry that the ” unusual excitement” caused by games might encourage “drinking and rowdyism.”

UNC’s football team in 1891, the first season after the ban was lifted (The Hellenian, North Carolina Collection)

Ten months later, a group of students led by football players George Graham, Samuel Blount, Alexander Stronach, Drew Patterson, and Perrin Busbee circulated a petition to end the ban. The faculty formed a committee to discuss the issue (an early incarnation of the Faculty Athletics Committee) and an agreement was reached. Intercollegiate sports were revived, but under the governance of an advisory committee. This committee, originally composed of a faculty member, a graduate student, and an undergraduate, would be instrumental in the administration and regulation of campus athletics in the coming years. UNC’s 1891 season was discouraging, as the team came away with a 0-2 record. However, over the next few years, the Tar Heels developed into one of the best teams in the South, winning the 1895 Southern Intercollegiate Athletics Association championship and going undefeated in 1898. For two of UNC’s rivals, however, the controversy over football continued. In 1895, both Wake Forest and Trinity, motivated in large part by their religious affiliations, banned the sport. Trinity did not field another team until 1920, while Wake Forest returned to the field in 1907.

Health Alert!! Polio Outbreak on UNC Campus! UNC-NC State Football Game Cancelled!

The year was 1952 and the United States was still three years away from Jonas Salk becoming a household name.  At the time, polio was the scariest public health issue in the United States.  So when five UNC students, all athletes, were stricken with polio from mid-September to early October, it was no surprise that university officials took the necessary steps to prevent the disease from spreading further, cancelling the two home football games against North Carolina State and Georgia, and requesting that students remain on campus.

Cover of the Daily Tar Heel, Oct. 3, 1952
Cover of the Daily Tar Heel, Oct. 3, 1952
Daily Tar Heel editorial page, Oct. 3, 1952
Daily Tar Heel editorial page, Oct. 3, 1952

Although the editor of the Daily Tar Heel said there was “no cause for alarm”, students were understandably concerned as were their parents.  Parking lots were nearly empty and the highways out of town were “dotted with hitchhikers” as students ignored the requests to stay on campus and went home.  Long distance telephone calls to and from Chapel Hill doubled as students and parents kept in touch with each other.

Cover of the Daily Tar Heel, Oct. 4, 1952
Cover of the Daily Tar Heel, Oct. 4, 1952

In the end, the worry was all for naught as the five students, football player Harold “Bull” Davidson;  cross country teammates John Robert Barden, Jr. and Richard Lee Bostain, swimmer Robert Nash “Pete” Higgins, and freshmen football player, Samuel S. Sanders, all recovered quickly and none suffered any paralysis.