White Phantoms

For some time now, I have been trying to determine when UNC discontinued using White Phantoms as the nick name for the basketball team. I even contacted the UNC Sports Information Office and Steven Kirschner informed me that "it is my understanding that it was phased out in the late forties." I already knew that and was somewhat disappointed that I didn't get a more precise answer to my question , but I can't complain since the response came within 15 minutes of my contacting them.

Not to be denied, I have persevered and I am pleased to report that I have finally determined when the White Phantoms ceased to exist. I am indebted to the widow of Bob Paxton, a star UNC player in the 40s and a member of the '45-'46 team that lost to Oklahoma A and M (now Oklahoma State) for the national championship, 43-40. I will never forget huddling by my radio that year, holding the aerial wire to improve reception and listening to the final two games from Madison Square Garden. I don't remember if it was Ray Reeve doing the broadcast but I'm inclined to think it was. WRAL did most of the UNC stuff back then but WPTF would join in when something of a national nature was involved. Many people aren't aware that it was a shocker when WRAL won the television rights for the first TV station in Raleigh since WPTF had also applied and was the favorite to secure the license.

Back to Madison Square Garden and the '46 Final Four. Carolina trailed Ohio State very late in the semi-final game by two points and things didn't look too good. We had the ball and Bob Paxton launched a long shot which caused Bones McKinney to shout "no" but it was too late. Bones used to love to tell the story and how he said "good shot" after seeing that it was good.. No way I can make it as humorous as he used to because Bones was a world class story teller back when story telling was a real art.

Back to the White Phantoms. I remembered UNC was using the name White Phantoms in '46 but I couldn't remember when it was discontinued. Adding to the complexity of the situation is that things of this nature tend to be strung out over a period of time and not effective on an exact date. I'm sure someone somewhere is still referring the UNC basketball as the White Phantoms. When I was stationed in Florida, I met an older lady who was still referring to Florida State as "Tally." She had attended the school when it was named Tallahassee State Teacher's College.

Young Bob Paxton told me he would try to help me research the question by asking his mother, also a UNC grad, and a check of the Yackety Yack for the years '48-'50 revealed that ''48 was the last year the nickname White Phantoms was used exclusively, both Tar Heels and White Phantoms was used in '49 and Tar Heels was used solely in '50. So I guess the answer to the question, in case you are ever asked in a game of Tar Heel trivia, is 1950. Of course, it depends on how the question is asked. It depends on whether it is asked in the positive or the negative. I want to thank Mrs. Paxton and young Bob for their assistance. They had no way of knowing that I have a friend who had asked me whether I had found the answer almost every time he saw me. Now we can talk about something else. I think he sort of enjoyed the fact that I didn't know but I can't be sure.

A little more on nicknames. It has been said that the trend to call all athletic teams by the same name began at N.C. State where it was reported that Everette Case despised State's nick name "Red Terrors." They adopted Wolfpack for all athletic teams and simultaneously or near the same time, UNC adopted Tar Heels for all sports. Carolina had Blue Dolphins for the swimming team and Duke's swimming team used the nickname "Blue Imps," if I remember correctly. I don't believe Duke and Wake Forest have ever used nicknames for football and basketball other than Blue Devils and Demon Deacons. My favorite all time nickname was the one used by the UNC freshmen football team, who were known as the "Tar Babies."

So it looks like I am going to have to find another question to pursue now that the elusive White Phantom question has been answered. I'm still wrestling with the question of whether to share the information I have uncovered with the Sports Information Office. Seems to me they should have known the answer to this question but maybe nobody asks the question very much and I'm sure they have other things for the interns to do.