Being a Tar Heel

If you read this blog regularly, then this post is not likely to add anything to your understanding of Tar Heels. But for the uninitiated, here are some of the basics about being a Tar Heel:

What is a Tar Heel?

The explanations on this vary. The most important thing for you to note is that “Tar Heel” is TWO WORDS, PEOPLE!!

The University not only uses the nickname “Tar Heels,” but the entire state does as well. One version of the nickname’s origin has the name first being applied to North Carolinians during the Civil War. One record talks of a battle in Virginia, where their supporting column retreated, but North Carolina troops fought alone. The victorious troops were asked in a condescending tone by some Virginians, who had retreated, “Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?” The response came quickly: “No, not a bit; old Jeff’s bought it all up.” The Virginians asked: “Is that so? What is he going to do with it?” The reply: “He is going to put it on you’ns heels to make you stick better in the next fight.”

One legend has the nickname being applied to the state’s residents as long ago as the Revolutionary War. According to this story, the troops of British General Cornwallis were fording what is now known as the Tar River between Rocky Mount and Battleboro when they discovered that tar had been dumped into the stream to impede their crossing. When they finally got across the river they found their feet completely black with tar. Their observation that anyone who waded North Carolina rivers would acquire tar heels led to the nickname first being used.

Others say the nickname was acquired during the War Between the States. During one of that war’s fiercest battles a column supporting North Carolina troops was driven from the field. After the battle, the North Carolinians who had successfully fought it out alone, happened to meet the regiment which had fled to safety and were greeted with the question, “Any more tar down in the Old North State, boys?”

“No, not a bit,” shot back one of the North Carolina soldiers. “Old Jeff’s bought it all up,” he went on, referring to Jefferson Davis, President of the Confederacy.

“Is that so? What’s he going to do with it?”

“He’s going to put it on you’ns heels to make you stick better in the next fight.”

Upon hearing of the incident, Robert E. Lee smiled and said to a fellow officer, “God bless the Tar Heel boys.”

A letter found in 1991 by State Archivist David Olson lends credence to another more direct theory. A letter from Maj. Joseph Engelhard describes a fight involving men from North Carolina in which Lee was heard to have said, “There they stand as if they have tar on their heels.”

The letter, dated August 24, 1864, told the tale of a battle on the outskirts of Petersburg, Va. Engelhard was elected secretary of state for North Carolina in 1876.

Tar Heel History

The nation’s first state university, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill was chartered in 1789 and opened to students in 1795. (Find some other Tar Heel firsts here).

Men’s Basketball

Carolina has won 4 NCAA Championships (1957, 1982, 1993, and 2005) and also won the Helms trophy in 1924, awarded to the top team in the country and recognized as a national championship.

Carolina has been to 17 Final Fours, tying them with UCLA for most in NCAA history.

Carolina is second behind Kentucky for highest program winning percentage and most program wins.

Carolina is second behind UCLA for most weeks as the AP #1 ranked team.

Carolina is the only team in the country with 12 wins over the #1 ranked team.

Dean Smith retired in 1997 after 36 years as head coach with 879 wins, then the most in NCAA D-1 history. He has since been surpassed by Bob Knight, who has coached for 42 years.

Hall of Fame Coach Roy Williams. Michael Jordan. Nuf said.

Carolina fans have fallen in love with a program that wins with class, plays with effort, graduates its players, plays by the rules, and acts like a family.


Sixty two All-Americas since 1929. Twenty four 1,000 yard rushers. A legacy of NFL drafts. An up-and-coming team under Butch Davis, who orchestrated a similar reconstruction at Miami in the 90s. Ranked #3 in the country under Mack Brown in 1996 behind a dominating defense.

The most beautiful college football setting in America.

The Rest

And don’t forget total domination in Women’s Soccer. A strong Women’s Basketball program. Back to Back College Word Series appearances in Baseball. A pounding of Dook in the Carlyle Cup this year.

Being a Tar Heel

All in all, being a Tar Heel is sweet. Pretty ladies (at a 2 to 1 ratio). Picturesque campus. On-campus stadiums. A decorated athletic history coupled with a bright future. Hark the Sound and all that jazz. Woody Durham. The Old Well. The Bell Tower. Carolina Blue. The Blues Brothers. Carolina In My Mind and Sweet Carolina.

It’s good to be a Tar Heel. Aye Zigga Zoomba, y’all.


2 Responses

  1. Although exact origin of Tar Heel is unknown, but many versions does sound interesting .
    Thanks alot Tar Heel Born and Bred for the information.

    Hope tar never stick to my heels. Have fun.

  2. My daughter will be a Tar Heel playing Soccer in 2011. We can’t wait for her to play with the women of UNC Chapel Hill and with Coach Anson.

    I can’t wait to be a Tar Hell Mom !!

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