Every now and then when I am lucky enough to get tickets to games in the Dean Dome, I marvel at how far we have come facilities wise for our basketball program. While I am not quite old enough to have seen a game in the old "Tin Can", I am old enough to have seen many games in Woollen.
Woollen Gym was completed in 1938 as part of the Federal Government's WPA Program. At the time it was completed, it was a very nice facility particularly when compared to our neighbors at N.C.State, Wake Forest and Duke. The seating capacity for Woollen when it was used for basketball was around 5,000 while the facilities for our neighboring schools probably didn't exceed 3000. Wake Forest played in Gore Gymnasium which would not seat more than maybe 2300, State played in Frank Thompson Gym which might have held a few more but no more than 2500 and Duke whose home court before Cameron (Duke Indoor Stadium) is unknown to me. I do know that Cameron didn't open until some time in the 40s.
While I recall games I saw in Woollen with fondness, I also recall two of the most frightening experiences of my life during and after two games played there.
The first one was the brawl that took place during a Wake Forest game in the late 50s. Nothing that preceded the fights gave a clue as to what would occur later but believe me, those in attendance were terrified. This was back in the days when "broadvision" was utilized for the games which was an arrangement whereby the game would be televised on the public TV station with no sound. The narrative account of the game was on the radio, so you needed two pieces of equipment in order to follow the game. No one is quite sure what started the fighting but WF and UNC seemed to have more "bad blood" back then than is the case today. Around this same time, there was a brawl with WF in Kenan with every player on both sides coming onto the field to fight with the exception of one Carolina player who was photographed sitting on the bench while every one else was slugging it out. When he was asked why he didn't go onto the field in an after the game interview, he said he had come to Carolina to play football, not fight. Since he planned to go into the ministry, I think most Carolina fans forgave him.
Back to Woollen. Most of us agreed that the situation was sparked by some incidental contact on the floor and over reaction by someone to what had happened. The most amazing thing about the situation was how quickly it exploded and how quickly the fans got involved. I am sure I saw at least 10 separate fights going on at one time. We joked later that Carolina people had to be fighting each other because there weren't that many Wake fans present to have participated in 10 fights. Anyway, they finally separated all the combatants and the game continued. The following year, the same thing happened in a home game for the Deacons and as a result the ACC Commissioner ruled that for a prescribed period of time Wake had to play their home games in Greensboro. Students traveled by bus to the Greensboro Coliseum to attend their HOME games.
The second situation involved N.C. State and took place between 1955 and 1958. State was beating us pretty regularly during this period and some of the scores were not close. After a hard fought game in Woollen where Coach Everette Case's team administered another whipping to the Heels, the State players did something I had never seen before and I hope I don't see again. Apparently, in Indiana it had been a tradition to cut down the nets on the opponents home court if the visitors won the game. This was new to folks in this part of the country and there were those who took exception to the practice, especially in Woollen. The State players were huddled under the basket at the West end and had hoisted one of them, knife in hand, onto their shoulders and he was in the process of separating the net from the rim when I noticed a group of Carolina football players getting angrier by the minute. Finally, they charged the State group like a herd of horses and as old Andy would say, they "knocked 'em winding" Keep in mind the State player still had the knife in his hand and my first thought was that I was going to witness a very bad scene. Fortunately, the player did not attempt to do anything with the knife, and eventually the situation resolved itself when the State players went to the dressing room. I'm not sure but I don't think the net was with them or they would probably still be fighting.
I've never seen any violence in the Dean Dome and that suits me just fine. I think the conflicts between Tar Heels and rival schools has gradually become more verbal over the years and that's the way it should be if we want to call ourselves civilized. I've learned over the years that the bottom line question in a conflict is not who is right and who is wrong, but who started it. The potential for conflict is always present everywhere and the culprit, in my opinion, is the person who aggravates the situation.
So next time you are in the Dean Dome, try to visualize what a game would have been like in days gone by. If you have trouble, drop by Section 203,Row T, Seat 6 at the Kentucky game and I will try to help you.