In 1997, UNC men's basketball coach Dean Smith said UNC was a “women’s soccer school,” and that his basketball program was just trying to keep up with their success.
Since then, the school has excelled by winning a multitude of championships and producing professional talent in women’s sports across the board.
GoHeels recently launched the 50 Years of Carolina women's athletics project to celebrate the success of women’s sports programs at UNC, as the campaign highlights the impressive achievements and milestones reached throughout the years.
Feature stories and videos will be available on goheels.com/50years, as well as GoHeels and Rams Club social media accounts. The initiative has already been integrated into Tar Heel home football games with a video series featuring various women’s teams on the jumbotron.
GoHeels also plans to host other events partnering with Rams Club throughout the year, according to Sarah Sessoms, Carolina Athletics director of special projects.
“We are proud of the women champions, legends and leaders who have contributed to the storied history of women’s sports at UNC,” Sessoms said. “We are excited to celebrate our rich history in multiple ways throughout the year because recognizing this milestone is important to the Department of Athletics.”
The history of UNC women’s athletics began in 1971, when seven women’s sports programs were promoted to varsity status by the Association for Intercollegiate Athletics for Women. A few years later, these programs were moved from the physical education department to UNC’s Department of Athletics.
Since those seven sports went varsity, UNC women’s programs have brought home 39 national championships — roughly 70 percent of UNC’s 55 total titles. According to Sessoms, North Carolina female athletes have accounted for 40 individual champions, 50 national player of the year awards and 54 Academic All-Americans.
The athletic department has used the FORevHER Tar Heels campaign, which was launched by the Rams Club in 2019, to fundraise for women's athletic programs at UNC. Jules Micchia, a FORevHER Tar Heels alumni athlete board member, said she thinks the initiative can encourage other schools to make a similar investment.
"The investment that they’re putting in women’s athletics is something to really be proud of,” Micchia said. “They are also showing other schools that it is just as important to invest in their female athletes.”
Since the COVID-19 pandemic began, the Rams Club and FORevHER Tar Heels campaign have raised more than $70 million of their $100 million goal to support women’s athletics. In the past year, the Rams Club has given money to each women’s team to help with the implications COVID-19 and funding cuts have had on their programs.
“When I think of the history of women’s athletic programs at UNC, I think of success across the board,” women's lacrosse sophomore midfielder Brooke Baker said. “It definitely influenced my decision to attend college here. The women’s programs, the players and the coaches are made to feel respected and they represent the best of the best in women’s sports — past, current and future.”
The 50 Years of women’s athletics project looks to educate and inspire those who are less familiar with the history of women’s sports at North Carolina, while also showing people the various ways in which they can support women’s programs and teams. Micchia said the school is taking accountability by offering this education.
“We are starting to see a shift,” Micchia said. “It’s really an honor to be at a school that not only invests in these female athletes, but one where females dominate their sport."
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