Leon Grimes is a 1996 NC State graduate who happens to live in a place called Tar Heel, a small town in Bladen County in eastern North Carolina. With the biggest rivalry of the season coming up this weekend, when NC State welcomes UNC to Carter-Finley Stadium, we spoke by email with Grimes about how it feels to be a Wolfpacker living in Tar Heel. The answer? Grimes assured us he feels right at home.
First, the essential question – Is there any relationship between UNC-Chapel Hill and Tar Heel, N.C.? I am given to understand that the area in which the Town of Tar Heel (two words) is located was a busy shipping location on the Cape Fear River during the colonial period in North Carolina history. Turpentine and tar were widely used products during that time (especially with regards to naval stores) and many agricultural and forest products were harvested and shipped from the location. As a result, locals walked through spilled tar constantly and were subsequently known as “Tar Heels.” I have also heard that Confederate soldiers from North Carolina during the Civil War were referred to as “Tarheels” (one word) because they remained at their fighting positions as if tar were stuck to their heels. I freely admit that I am no expert in the matter. However, after considering both explanations for the origin of the term, I suspect that the former is more closely related to the town and that latter is more closely related to Tar Heels of the University of North Carolina.
What is the town of Tar Heel like? The Town of Tar Heel is very small and very rural. It is located on the Cape Fear River roughly 25-30 miles south of Fayetteville, N.C. Until the arrival of the hog processing plant (Smithfield Foods), there were only 5-6 small businesses (gas stations, restaurants, etc. ), the U.S. Post Office and the Tar Heel Middle School (formerly Tar Heel Jr.-Sr. High School) along with at least two local churches located along N.C. Hwy 87. Not much has changed over the years. Tar Heel remains a small and relatively quiet and peaceful place to live. When others ask where I am from, I often respond that I am from a town that is so small that you could throw a rock over it.
Does it feel odd to be an NC State alumnus in a place sharing its name with one of our chief rivals? It does not really feel at all “odd to be an NC State alumnus” living in the Tar Heel area. I say this despite the fact that both my mother and mybrother are UNC-Chapel Hill grads. A great NC State/UNC rivalry has existed in the area since well before I was born and continues to this day. Located right down the road and within easy driving distance from Tar Heel in St. Pauls is a restaurant called TARPACKERS. As you might imagine, this well-known local establishment caters to both Tar Heel and Wolfpack fans and is famous for its local cuisine. I assure you that while the the town may share a name with a certain university located in Chapel Hill, NC State is well-represented in and around Tar Heel, N.C.
Will you be in Raleigh for the Carolina game? I am afraid that I will not be attending this year’s game in person. While I sometimes miss the tailgate activities, the food and the camaraderie of watching the Wolfpack play football from the stands, I have obligations and responsibilities that often require me to watch from the couch. I will be supporting the Wolfpack wearing my NCSU hoodie and baseball cap as I watch. Rest assured that I will continue to scream and cheer at the widescreen with each and every great play or blown call.
What’s your prediction for the game? Of course, I will always pick the Wolfpack to win against the Tar Heels!
Can you share a favorite Carolina rivalry memory? My cousin, Mr. Mack Woodlief of Garner, N.C., played football for NC State during the mid-late 1980s. I remember visiting with him at the training facility at NC State and accompanying him down the path from the training facility to the practice field. At that time, I had never been to a college football game and only a few high school football games. I was impressed. Later, I went to watch my cousin play. It was during that time that I first witnessed State and Carolina playing football firsthand and up close. I vividly recall the chill in the air, the traffic, the sounds and smells of the nearby State Fair, the brightly colored leaves falling from the trees and the resounding cheering and echoes of my first NC State v. Carolina football game from Carter-Finley. I would not trade the experience of the memories for anything.
— Jeannene Lang