The Daily Tar Heel
Printing news. Raising hell. Since 1893.
Tuesday, Dec. 5, 2023 Newsletters Latest print issue

We keep you informed.

Help us keep going. Donate Today.
The Daily Tar Heel

Chapel Hill family organizes 'PIG' tournament in honor of son's memory

Photo Courtesy of the Burke Whitaker Pig Tournament.

When Chapel Hill native Burke Whitaker was undergoing chemotherapy treatment in 2020, one of the few things that would cheer him up was playing basketball.

Well, 'PIG' that is.

The shooting game 'PIG' was a compromise between Burke and his mom, Libby Whitaker. The game is a streamlined version of  'HORSE,' where players only have to outshoot their opponents three times to spell P-I-G, which allowed the duo to play more frequently. Two years later, following Burke’s death in January 2022, his family is keeping his memory alive and giving back to the community via the same thing — 'PIG.'

“When you have a child that dies, the first thing is you’re determined to make sure everyone remembers that child and thinks about that child as much as you do,” Libby said.

In memory of Burke, his family created The Burke Whitaker PIG Tournament. On Sept. 30, The Farm, a UNC faculty-staff recreation association, will host the second annual tournament. This year, the tournament is partnering with Me Fine, an organization that works to provide support to North Carolina families struggling to afford medical care for children experiencing a health crisis.

"My priority is still, everyone come out and have a great time and have a wonderful day," Libby said, "and do a little good on the side."

'He was trying to keep being a normal college student'

In September 2019, Burke entered into his sophomore year at the University of Tennessee in Knoxville. Just a couple of weeks into his classes, his mother received a call from the university's medical center informing her that Burke had a seizure.

Doctors soon discovered he had a low-grade astrocytoma — otherwise known as a cancerous brain tumor — causing Burke to move back home to Chapel Hill to receive treatment at the Preston Robert Tisch Brain Tumor Center at Duke.

Burke still wanted to continue his education, leading him to return to the University of Tennessee for the spring 2020 semester, where he continued with chemotherapy. However, after the COVID-19 pandemic began, Burke returned home once more and enrolled part-time at UNC.

“He was trying to keep being a normal college student," Libby said. "But that was going to be hard while you’re being treated for [cancer].” 

During this time, the game of 'PIG' became a distraction from all of the hours stuck at home and at the hospital receiving treatment. For Burke and his family, 'PIG,' and the sport of basketball, was special — Burke grew up playing in recreational leagues and attending many UNC basketball games.

“This 'PIG' tournament came about as a result of hours and hours well spent in the driveway," Libby said. "Just keeping him entertained while he was stuck here."

'It's for Burke'

Seth Pomerantz, the assistant manager of The Farm, said that when Libby came to him with the idea of a 'PIG' tournament in Burke's honor, he instantly agreed to help. The Farm was a special spot for Burke growing up. He attended camp at The Farm every year and later worked there as a camp counselor.

“We thought it was a perfect tie-in for the camp and for The Farm,” Pomerantz said.

The tournament is a World Cup-style event, starting with group stages and eventually leading to knockout rounds that continue until the winner is decided. 

The inaugural event in 2022 lasted for hours with different activities such as a silent auction and a cookout. Through Burke's memory, the tournament raised more than $21,000 for Super Cooper's Wagon, a pediatric oncology foundation.

“The program was hugely successful in terms of raising money for the charity of choice, making it all about Burke, which is what the whole idea was, and then having it be a really fun, festive atmosphere," Pomerantz said.

This year, the tournament will raise money for Me Fine. The organization's executive director Joey Powell said they could not be more excited.

“It felt like a natural fit, and Libby and her team have been great to work with so far,” Powell said. 

The tournament will take place on Sept. 30 and is open to anyone. The day will be filled with many games of 'PIG' and a special appearance from UNC men's basketball star Armando Bacot at 3 p.m. Check-in starts at 1:30 p.m., and participants can register here

“As long as people are still wanting to do it, I’m willing to do it forever,” Libby said. “Because it's for Burke.” 


@dthsports |