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The Daily Tar Heel

Rushing Franklin Street through the decades

Excited fans jump over a bonfire on Franklin Street after North Carolina beats Duke in men’s basketball.

Excited fans jump over a bonfire on Franklin Street after North Carolina beats Duke in men’s basketball.

Correction: An earlier draft of this story cited the wrong year for the loss to Marquette. The Daily Tar Heel apologizes for the error. 

Sophomore Rosie Tran’s feet couldn’t reach the ground.

Tran found herself being held up by the hordes of UNC-Chapel Hill students rushing Franklin Street after last year’s win against Duke University. She said she felt herself moving back and forth with the crowd, dangling in the air for almost a minute. 

“I’m only 5 feet 2 inches," Tran said. “My significant other was scared I would fall over and become trampled, so he would lift me up a little bit. But when he let me go, I was held up by other people’s bodies.”

With UNC-CH facing off against Duke on Thursday, Tran said she hopes to get to experience rushing again. 

Rushing Franklin Street after a major basketball win is a UNC-CH tradition, and according to Tran, a quintessential experience that brings the campus together. Students have been rushing Franklin Street for decades, with many of the rituals continuing today.

Alumni Leigh Wilco rushed Franklin Street for the first time in 1977, after UNC-CH lost to Marquette. 

“It was pretty bittersweet, I remember thinking we were going to win,” Wilco said. “We went down anyways.”

Three years later, UNC-CH won the 1982 national championship against Georgetown University, its first championship since 1957. It was Dean Smith’s first national championship. 

“It was just euphoric,” Wilco said. “You know, we had this guy named Michael Jordan on our team … people were just pouring in on Franklin Street. The streets and sidewalks were packed with people, and people were climbing trees.”

It was a similar scene in 2017, when UNC-CH won its sixth national championship. Sophomore Caroline Bowyer sprinted from the Alpha Sigma Phi fraternity on Rosemary Street to Franklin Street, where 55,000 other people would eventually rush. 

“I wasn’t close to any fires, but I just remember not being able to stand up straight,” Bowyer said. “Everyone was pushing each other back and forth.”

Forty years later, Wilco saw some differences in the way students celebrate on Franklin. He didn’t remember anyone jumping over bonfires when he rushed.

Duke was also not seen as a strong rival, he said. 

“N.C. State was the bigger rivalry,” Wilco said. “They were the better team between them and Duke. Duke had never won a national championship, so it wasn’t quite the same.”

When UNC-CH won against Duke last year, Tran saw the entire UNC-CH community unite against what is now one of the school’s fiercest rivalries.

“People were singing the alma mater, people were yelling 'Tar,' and then other people were yelling back 'Heels,'” Tran said. “In that moment, we were just Tar Heels, and we were just really happy that we won.”

Despite the changes in how UNC-CH celebrates on Franklin Street, the attitude toward the success of the basketball team remains the same.

“It’s just being in a crowd of people,” Wilco said. “Everybody is just so happy, everyone is high-fiving everybody. You have all these thousands of people all feeling the same way. This is our school, our team and we won.”


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