What Is A Tar Heel?

In case you couldn’t tell from the last two posts (here & here), I was following the NCAA men’s basketball championship game quite closely. The game was an exciting contest that left me with two questions:

  1. Will Gonzaga be able to make it back to a Final Four sometime soon?
  2. What is a Tar Heel (North Carolina’s mascot)?

The first question won’t be answered for months or possibly years. The second one should be easier to figure out. Let’s find out the answer in today’s edition of Wonder Why Wednesday.

What is a Tar Heel?

For the answer, let’s turn right to the source: The University of North Carolina website. Here is what they have to say:

Our nickname, which also applies to North Carolina citizens, has at least two possible origins. One story hails back to the Revolutionary War and the troops of British General Cornwallis. After fording a river in eastern North Carolina, the British troops discovered their feet covered with tar, a product of North Carolina’s abundant pine trees and one of the state’s most important exports at the time. Some say the clever North Carolinians dumped it in the river to slow down the invading army. The British were said to have observed that if you waded in North Carolina rivers, you would get tar on your heels.

Another story comes from the Civil War. A group of North Carolina soldiers scolded their comrades for leaving the battlefield when things got tough. The soldiers threatened to stick tar on the heels of the retreating soldiers to help them stay in the battle. General Robert E. Lee is said to have commented “God bless the Tar Heel boys!” Whatever the reason for the moniker, our students and sports teams have long worn it with pride.”

Okay, so maybe this isn’t any easier to answer than the question of when Gonzaga will make another Final Four.