UNC National Championship tree on Franklin Street removed, replaced because of decay

After 45,000 Tar Heel fans and students rushed Franklin Street to celebrate UNC’s NCAA Championship in 2009, a toppled tree lay on the corner of Franklin and Columbia streets.

For three years, the tree — which was made into a sculpture of a hand holding a basketball — has served as a monument to UNC’s victory that day.

But Tuesday, the “championship tree,” as it has become known, was removed from the corner because decay had overtaken it.

“I was up on the roof at Spanky’s that night, and there were five or six guys on that tree, and I knew it was doomed,” said Greg Overbeck, co-owner of Spanky’s Restaurant & Bar, which is located on the same corner as the sculpture.

“I always wondered how long the sculpture would last.”

Dwight Bassett, Chapel Hill’s economic development officer, said he was asked to sculpt the piece in an effort to save the tree.

“I probably worked on it a couple days a week for probably three weeks that summer,” he said. “I’ve been doing woodworking for probably 25 years. It’s always been an avocation of mine.”

Due to the nature of wood, Bassett said the sculpture was never supposed to be permanent.

“I was actually surprised that it had lasted this long. When I did the work, I had never guessed that it would last a couple of years,” he said.

“It was sad on one hand to see it go because I remember the intense labor that went into it.”

Bassett said he designed the sculpture as an arm outstretched and holding a basketball because the tree’s remnants stood vertically.

The town planted a new tree in its place and plans to preserve the sculpture to make it available to the public in the future.

Though Overbeck thought the sculpture was interesting, he said he is happy that a new tree has been planted in its place, softening the look of the corner.

“We’re really happy that the town was proactive about taking care of the problem, and though we’re sad to see it go we’re happy that the new tree will make the street corner look a little nicer.”

Freshman Jenna Marvin said she was sad to see the sculpture go and hopes that it will be preserved.

“The new tree fits in well but the cool thing about the sculpture was that it didn’t fit in, and I think that’s why everyone liked it so much,” she said. “If there’s a way to preserve and make it available to the people, I think that should be done because it’s a part of our history now.”

Bassett said the sculpture is in the process of being dried and preserved, and that the town is looking for a way to reuse it as a piece of public art.

Contact the City Editor

at city@dailytarheel.com.

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