by Adam Lucas, GoHeels.com
CHAPEL HILL - Tonight is almost a red-carpet night in Chapel Hill.
Except that, as you would expect, a red carpet simply won't do at Carolina, so attendees at tonight's first-ever Rammys will be greeted by a blue carpet.
The Rammys are a twist on the traditional end-of-year all-sports banquet, which had gotten a little stale in recent years. So instead of sitting at a formal dinner, the entire student-athlete population will assemble tonight at Memorial Hall for an ESPYs-type show celebrating the year in Tar Heel sports-and also some of the talent outside of sports that makes Carolina student-athletes unique.
"We want to get the students engaged and create a marquee event," says athletic director Bubba Cunningham, who has been one of the driving forces behind the new format.
It's a familiar process for Cunningham, who was at Tulsa when the Golden Hurricane shifted from a more traditional banquet to an end-of-year production. Just like at Carolina, the change was met with some confusion and occasional skepticism at first. But by the time Cunningham left Tulsa, the night had evolved to the point that the student-athletes put on a full-scale production of the television show "Glee."
He brought some of that creativity to last year's banquet, which featured a well-received athletic department-wide video set to "Jump Around." This year, the change becomes complete. A production company has been brought in to stage the event, student-athletes are being encouraged to dress as they would for an awards show, and-Cunningham says this is the key-student-athletes have been involved at every level of the planning process, to try and make it an evening that they will enjoy.
The night, which will be hosted by Jones Angell, is also supposed to be about more than sports. So even though the Tar Heel athletic department has had an impressive year-women's soccer won the department's 39th NCAA championship, men's lacrosse and field hockey earned ACC championships that brought the department's total in that category to 252, and several spring teams are still in contention for national honors-tonight will be about more than just sports.
In addition to a host of awards mostly voted on by their peers, the evening will also include a talent component. Baseball pitcher (and Morehead-Cain Scholar) Benton Moss will play the piano, for example, and soccer player Indi Cowie will show off the freestyle soccer skills that earned her a place in the Guinness Book of World Records.
"When the student-athletes walk out of Memorial tonight, I want them to feel like it was a fun event," Cunningham said. "I want them to be talking about how glad they are that they came, and about what a great year it was for Carolina."