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The Voice of the Black Community

Sports

Mining gold from gridiron
Football brings new traditions, awareness to UNCC
 
Published Wednesday, October 16, 2013 8:08 am
by Herbert L. White

There’s one home game left in Charlotte’s inaugural football season, and it’s already been a resounding success.

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PHOTO/CURTIS WILSON
From homecoming to new traditions, football has changed UNC Charlotte's campus culture.

Where the campus turned into a ghost town on Saturdays, it’s awash in green and gold, tailgating and trash talking. Fans are wearing 49ers gear, and perhaps most significantly, football has the attention of people who have no connection to the university. 

“I don’t think there is any other event – sporting event, anything – that can do what football is doing from a branding perspective for this university,” Charlotte Athletics Director Judy Rose said. “It wouldn’t matter if there were some big academic award –that’s awesome and we all want that – but can it get what this is doing? Getting people to come back and spend the whole day here or maybe a weekend and wearing our (colors).”

Even a 45-22 loss to Division II UNC Pembroke at homecoming hasn’t dampened football excitement at Charlotte. The 49ers are 4-3 with a schedule made up of Division I FCS, Division II and non-scholarship opponents, but the upshot is the strengthening bond between Charlotte, football and culture.

“It was just pretty cool all week to hear people talk all week about homecoming and having that fall here at Charlotte,” 49ers coach Brad Lambert said. “That was pretty cool and our crowd was great (at the game). We didn’t give them much to cheer about, so it was tough on them, but I was really proud of the fans. They came out and were loud.”

Rose, who lives in Denver, has seen the support first hand when strangers react to Charlotte gear she’s wearing. That didn’t happen as often during the basketball-only days.

“We’ve never had that kind of response before, so I think people have adopted us (for football),” she said. “If you didn’t go to Charlotte, at least adopt us. When we’re playing your school, you pull for them. When we’re not playing your school, we’re Charlotte’s only Division I program. Adopt us and pull for the 49ers.”

There’s been more of it during football season. Basketball has been hit or miss as Charlotte has gone through a drought since its last NCAA tournament appearance. While the football program is still finding its way, the 49ers have a rally point, with new traditions, such as moving homecoming to the fall. 

“One thing we’ve tried to do with the start of football all the way around regarding homecoming is we don’t want to dictate what traditions are going to be,” Rose said. “We want the students to form the traditions because if they form it, they’ll continue it. If we dictate and it doesn’t catch on then you’ve created something that’s not going to become a tradition. 

“We cannot force something on them,” Rose said. “We want them to create it in that regard.”

And they have. There was the first Parade of Lights, which included Charlotte alum and former Boston Celtic Cedric Maxwell among the participants. There was the school’s first Habitat for Humanity house build. So much is new, and everyone gets a chance to put a personal stamp on it.

“The alumni have played a critical role, students have played a role,” Rose said. “… It was really neat. Just a lot of new things we’re trying to create that fun.”

Said Lambert: “Homecoming is always something special on college campuses. It was great for our players to see.”

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