Evely Forte: I’m Evely Forte from the Daily Tar Heel, and this is Heel Talk.
UNC students swarmed Franklin Street twice after the UNC men’s basketball team beat Duke in its February and March games.
Today, I’m talking to DTH senior writer, Claire Perry, to discuss if and how the University and town of Chapel Hill prepared for either Franklin Street rushing occurrences, and to break down the impact such rushing has had on campus community members since. So, welcome Claire, we are so happy to have you on Heel Talk with us today!
CP: Hi. I’m so excited to be here. My name’s Claire Perry. I am a senior writer for the Daily Tar Heel and I covered both Franklin rushes.
EF: Awesome. Yeah, and that’s definitely the reason why I wanted to have you on here with us today. From your reporting, did the University or the Chapel Hill Police anticipate a lot of students would rush if UNC won in either the February or March game?
CP: Yes. I can’t really speak for what the officials were thinking on either side, but what I can speak for is me and Heidi Pérez-Moreno, who is the assistant audience and engagement editor. We did a records request from the town of Chapel Hill and from UNC just for any kind of documents and emails that were sent in preparation for the February Franklin rush. We did this request following the rush obviously, and what we found is that they really did not have as large of a presence as some people might have hoped.
Like, for example, we found an email that stated that two officers were deployed to Columbia Street from UNCPD at the request of Chapel Hill Police during the first February Rush. We also found emails that indicated that UNC police did not expect students to rush last month. One such email is from Sgt. Keith Ellington, the special events coordinator at UNC police, and in that email he wrote to Chief Perry of UNC police that the number of students on campus was low and no parties were supposedly being held due to the executive order, so that the chance that there would be some kind of rush in a post game win would be low. Clearly, that did not happen, so I guess what has changed between the February and March rush is we saw a drastically increased police presence. I spoke to one of the officers who was at the event in March and I asked him how many people were going to be there or police officers, and he gave me an estimate of roughly 50. This was a Chapel Hill police officer.
Everyone that I spoke to surrounding the March rush said that they were really going for an education-based approach, which I think has been very consistent in general with Chapel Hill police enforcement of all these executive orders and things like this with coronavirus and they were really just hoping to give people alternatives to rushing, and educate people about why it was wrong, and I think that really did result in a much smaller crowd and there was so much of a greater police presence that really did make a difference.
EF: Definitely, and so you brought up a lot I think of changes that were facilitated by the University and the town of Chapel Hill in preparation for the March game and a potential rushing if UNC were to win, which, as we know, UNC did win. But I did want to ask you Claire, were there any other sorts of mechanisms or preparations measures that were put in place as this March game approached to prevent this potential rushing? Anything else at all?
CP: Yeah, I mean, I wouldn’t really say anything else in terms of enforcement except for the greater amount of staffing, but I really want to emphasize it was drastically more police. Before the first time, I didn't really see a notable police presence at all, but this time officers were like milling the streets really. It was much bigger.
EF: Yeah, and that brings me to my next point really, which was how would you describe the scene in February versus the scene in March? Like what was your perception I guess as you were there for both?
CP: Yeah, really it's fascinating because I remember in February it was raining and it was like dark and cold and honestly kind of miserable, but you still had this whole stampede of people coming from a bunch of different directions. From restaurants on Franklin, there were people coming from nearby houses and apartments just like running towards this intersection and they were there for over 35 minutes from the end of the game.
Whereas, for the second rush, I think a lot of people were already kind of in the area because it wasn’t nasty you know, like it was for that February game. So you have all these people that are just like standing at all four corners of this intersection and there's just police like covering the intersection and it's just like everybody is waiting and there's this tension. And then people rushed into the middle and came back out and they rushed again, but it's really the brevity with which they were in the intersection was such a contrast between that full 35 minute block from last month.
EF: That is very interesting. I remember after the March game I was driving in my car on Franklin Street heading back home, and I do remember as you mentioned seeing kind of these four clusters you know around the intersection which is definitely interesting. I wasn’t near Franklin Street for the February game so I can’t speak to how that compares but it is interesting that you mentioned this difference in the crowd size really between the February and March games. Yeah, so Claire I also wanted to ask you what it was like as a reporter to be there in that scene in that moment in February and in March?
CP: This is not the first time that I covered in person outside larger gatherings like this. I did a lot of protest coverage of the summer but clearly a lot has changed since then. Like back at those protests there was so much mask wearage, like everybody clearly was trying to stay safe and not contribute to community spread. But at both of these rushes, especially the first one, there was a very clear apathy towards any kind of COVID guidance or any kind of COVID safety you know? That was scary, I’m not going to lie, especially like I’m small and I was alone and it was at night, and like I’m familiar with Franklin Street and I have definitely been in worse situations while reporting, but i’m immunocompromised, you know and like I was triple-masked but that doesn’t take away from the fact that it is scary to cover an event like that.
I think for me, I definitely had to kind of zone out of the situation that I was in and disassociate it from myself a little bit and just be like ok, I need to go in and do my job, and I’ll get out and I’ll be fine. I’ll quarantine for a week but I’ll be ok.
EF: And how about people or students that were at these events, Claire? Did you speak to anyone and kind of get their response to either your presence covering this scene or share their thoughts on rushing Franklin Street in general?
CP: Yeah, I did speak to some folks and I know that Morgan (Pirozzi) and Heidi who both covered these events did as well and I think there definitely was a lot of diversity of viewpoints in terms of what people are thinking about the situations, why they were there, that kind of thing, but we did run into some pretty unique reporting challenges like people lied about their names. They would talk to me and Heidi and they would be like quote unquote on the record and then they would lie about their names.
Like we have this interview where this person is talking about why they are here and their experience but they clearly don’t want to be identified. So I think some people knew that perhaps what they were doing was not the best choice in terms of being like a safe community member but there were also people that didn’t care, frankly, like I think there’s not a homogeneous experience with this kind of thing and everyone is there for their own reason.
EF: Definitely. As we finish up here Claire, I really wanted to touch on the impact that these rushings have had on the campus community and the surrounding communities in the area. I know you work with a lot of data at the DTH, so I wanted to ask you specifically about the positivity rates of COVID-19 on campus and surrounding campus community areas following these rushings. Do we have any information on what the rates were after each rush?
CP: So I actually did speak to Victoria Hudson with the Orange County Health Department about if she saw any kind of spike or anything after the first rush, and she actually said that there wasn’t. She said that there was no significant spike in cases. But if we look at the Carolina Together dashboard, so the first rush was on February 6th, and if you are looking at these numbers you don’t actually see a substantial spike in the actual student cases but I would like to emphasize that like the case count with students is not everything in terms of community spread.
I think that sure you have the cases from students but the thing about covid is it's so hard to identify what is the direct effect of some kind of event and what isn’t. So, for example let’s say that someone went to Franklin Rush and they caught COVID, but they didn’t know it so like they went to go eat in like a Franklin Street restaurant within the next couple of days and then maybe someone that is working in that restaurant gets COVID as a result, like that kind of spread is not calculated on the dashboard, so even though there isn’t i guess a sizable spike after the first Franklin rush, I don’t think it's fair to say that there wasn’t some kind of effect at all, you know?
EF: No, yeah and how about for the March rush, just in terms of comparison. Do we have any data as far as cases go, like either on the dashboard or from speaking to Orange County health officials for March?
CP: I have not done any follow up reporting so I can’t give you a great answer, but what I can say is I don’t know if it would really be fair to compare, just because in addition to kind of this UNC microcosm, North Carolina as a whole has had a lot of decreases in case count, hospitalizations, etc. in the past couple of months, specifically in the past month-ish, and additionally a lot of people are getting vaccinated right now in North Carolina. I don't know if it is fair to compare the two just because COVID is changing so quickly and recently has changed so much.
EF: Well thank you so much Claire, those were all the questions I had. I appreciate all the reporting you do for the DTH and for being here today.
CP: Thank you so much. Happy to be here.
EF: Next we are going to recap the UNC men's basketball performance in the ACC tournament and preview March Madness with former DTH sports editor Brian Keys.
EF: Hey Brian, welcome to Heel Talk
BK: Hey. Thanks for having me.
EF: So, Brian, as we know yesterday it was announced that UNC is an 8 seed playing Wisconsin in the first round. I wanted to ask you right off the bat, how far do you think UNC is going to make it this year?
BK: Well, that's an interesting question. I think UNC fans are mostly just happy they don't have to play Gonzaga. That was the big concern. People were hoping if the Tar Heels did well enough in the ACC tournament they would manage to bump themselves up to a 7 seed that gives them a slightly easier path, because it means they don’t have to play any of the number one ranked seeds until pretty far in.
Unfortunately for them, they are an eight seed which means if they win their first match up they are going against Baylor who was the number two ranked team in the country for basically the entire year. So, going far depends on taking on some pretty good teams. Wisconsin was a top 10 team in Ken Palm rankings which is a predictive way of sorting of ranking of the best teams in the country, so realistically not super far.
That being said, UNC is actually an interesting match up problem for both Wisconsin and Baylor, who is the number one seed that they’ll face because neither of those teams really have any dominant big men and that’s UNC’s bread and butter. There’s not an impossible scenario where UNC just looks physically stronger than both those teams and does what they did in their good games in the ACC tournament, where they just dominate the glass, score on putbacks, and just muscle everybody out of the way.
Those teams are also an interesting match up for UNC because both Wisconsin and Baylor especially are two of the best three-point shooting teams in the country. UNC seemingly has always struggled guarding three-pointers under Roy Williams, especially this year. Any UNC fan can just sort of tell you anecdotally about watching the team get lit up by some random bench player on a random team who will hit four shots in a row and suddenly they are losing. People have seen that scenario and UNC, as it is built, really struggles guarding the perimeter.
Caleb Love who’s been very sort of on and off on offense is at least a physical and energetic defender from the point guard position. Leaky Black is probably the team’s best overall defender but they play RJ Davis a lot. He’s, for lack of a better word, very small for a college basketball player. He gives up a lot of size which makes it hard to contest three’s and also because they play two traditional bigs at the same time. Any team that plays four or five out, UNC really, really struggles because none of their big men are really that comfortable guardian shots on the perimeter.
EF: Yeah no, and you touched on a few of UNC’s players and so I was curious Brian, who do you think we should watch out for as the team begins playing in this, you know, championship really?
BK: I think there’s probably going to be three players that are going to really be the key to UNC having success. Number one probably is going to be Armando Bacot. He has been probably their best player, certainly their most consistent player for most of the season. He's kind of indicative of when UNC is playing well, because you can see when they are feeding him the ball in the post, when they are scoring at the rim, when they are running what they want to run, the ball goes to him a lot. When he's scoring, it's usually a sign that things are going right and that the game plan isn’t breaking down. He’s probably number one. The other two are going to be two first-year players, Caleb Love and Day’Ron Sharpe.
Day’Ron really has the ability to be just a complete game changer. He was against Virginia Tech. He has been multiple times throughout the season. He is, plain and simple, probably the best offensive rebounder in the country right now. The thing that UNC is best at, he is their best player at doing that. It’s funny because you watch them, and they start Bacot and Senior Garrison Brooks who are two pretty big guys, and you know Day’Ron Sharpe who is one of the most physical players in college basketball, and Walker Kessler, who is 7’1 with a 7 foot plus wingspan. It's very tiring to play, but Day’Ron just sort of has that ability to energize the team, you know, mixes things up when he comes in and suddenly he just starts grabbing offensive rebounds, kind of just moving guys out of the way to dunk the ball. If there's one guy that really gives them a spark it’s probably going to be Sharpe.
The third player is going to be Caleb Love, and that's because Caleb Love takes a lot of shots, and he misses a lot of shots. And he turns the ball over, probably a lot more than you would like your starting point guard to do. So, generally, the team kind of goes as he goes. You don't need him to be amazing to win, but you need him not to be bad. What we saw against Florida State, and they even acknowledge this, but when you have a team play really risky defense, which not a lot of teams can play it like Florida State does — they're kind of unique in that manner. What happens is the ball just ends up back out on the perimeter, in the guard’s hands. And you have guys, usually Caleb, taking contested shots at the end of the show. That's a bad offense. They're not very good at doing that.
Caleb, will make several boneheaded plays throughout the course of the game that he can see Roy Williams just gets very frustrated on the sideline. And so you need him to play under role, you need him to kind of buy into the game plan overall which is, first and foremost, that ball needs to go into the post on basically every single possession and then work from there.
EF: You mentioned UNC’s performance against Florida State, and so I did want to ask you, as UNC advanced through the ACC tournament, what was their overall team performance those past few games?
BK: Yes so the team’s performance was good, overall, all things considered. The situation under which UNC played Florida state was unusual because Florida State didn’t have to play Duke, who would have been their opponent. The Blue Devils dropped out because of a positive COVID test. So they were basically coming off multiple days of rest while UNC was playing their third game. With that being said, throughout the tournament overall it’s pretty clear UNC is actually playing it’s best basketball, which is ideal.
You want to, as a team, peak in March, especially as a team that has had as many highs and lows as the Tar Heels have. They utterly destroyed Notre Dame in the opening round in a way that it’s actually pretty difficult to sort of take real notes from blowout wins or losses, because once things get out of hand they just kind of carry on. Against Virginia Tech and against Florida State, especially in the second half against Florida State because the first half was not very good for them, they showed at least that they were pretty capable of reading into their strengths, which again is feeding the ball into the post, scoring with big guys, and offensive rebounding.
We don’t have a lot outside of that. They got some pretty impressive shot making throughout the tournament from RJ Davis, which was a huge boost, especially against Virginia Tech, where he scored either 14 or 15 of his 19 total points in the second half.
So, they have a little bit outside of their big men, but for the most part, they really rely on their front court and their front court looked pretty good. Garrison Brooks missed the first game against Notre Dame. He's been a little hobbled after he hurt his ankle against Duke in the last game of the regular season. He still kind of looked not 100% there in the games that he did play against Virginia Tech and Florida state.
But outside of him, Armando, Bacot, and Dayron Sharpe looked great. Walker Kessler had one really really good game against Notre Dame, and then struggled pretty heavily against Virginia Tech and Florida State. UNC, certainly for probably five out of the six quarters or not quarters, five out of the six halves, they’ve played an idealized version of themselves, which is really all you can ask for at this point.
EF: Definitely. Well, thank you so much, Brian, those are all the questions I had for you. I appreciate you being on here and sharing all that you've gained from your reporting these past few nights covering these games.
BK: Of course, thanks for having me.
EF: That’s it for this week’s episode of Heel Talk, sponsored by Tar Heel Verses and the UNC English Department. Here’s Jonesy Wilbanks, a sophomore from Richmond, Virginia, reading her poem about motherhood.
Jonesy Wilbanks: How To Cry
My mom talks about how she used to cry
When she took me to the pediatrician.
After handing me over to the nurse,
I would shriek in despair as the familiar
Comfort of her warm embrace
Upon my delicate newborn skin
Was replaced with an unfamiliar touch
Of the frigid metal baby scale.
She would sit on the maroon chair
Located in the left corner of the
Examination room that smelled
Strongly of sanitation spray,
After nurturing me for nine-months,
My life became her life,
My sadness became her sadness,
My tears became her tears.
Eighteen years later,
Sitting in the examination room
For my final pediatrician check-up,
The shrieking of newborn babies
Longing for the comfort of their mothers
Echoed through the door.
Staring at her little girl
Who was now grown up,
My mother sat one last time on
The maroon chair in the left corner,
EF: This podcast episode is hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram. Supervising producers are University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing Editor Will Melfi, and Editor-in-Chief Anna Pogarcic.
So if you enjoyed today’s episode, please consider subscribing, rating, and reviewing the episode, and sharing it with someone that you think would enjoy it too. I’ll see you next time.
Episode hosted by Evely Forte and produced by Praveena Somasundaram. Supervising producers are University Desk Editor Maddie Ellis, Digital Managing Editor Will Melfi and Editor-in-Chief Anna Pogarcic.
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