The Best-Laid Plans

Or, what I did on my summer vacation

By Bill Fields

It was a good plan. That’s my story, and I’m sticking to it.

The first five semesters of college, I carried a full academic schedule, but as the spring of my junior year at North Carolina approached I decided to take four classes instead of five. I was incoming sports editor of The Daily Tar Heel, a position that would take up a lot of time. Most of the requirements outside my major, journalism, had been met.

That semester, when the time came to register for classes in Woollen Gym, I signed up for two courses in J-School and one in the department of Radio, Television and Motion Pictures. I filled out my lightened load with Sociology 95, the Sociology of Sports.

For someone who loved sports, thought that sports writing or broadcasting was a likely career path, and had already shown some potential in that field, the sociology course sounded enjoyable and useful. What was not to like about a couple of hours a week studying games and the people who play them?

Moreover, Sociology 95 was known around campus as one of UNC-Chapel Hill’s easier classes, its seats populated with scholarship athletes who wore familiar numbers and fraternity boys majoring in keg operations. A student journalist busy putting out five editions of the school paper each week in addition to his studies would fit right in.

There were no exams in professor James Wiggins’ course; the only requirement was a term paper explaining a particular sport or team. It seemed right up my alley — I blithely figured to add another A to the handful of top marks I’d earned in two-and-a-half years, along with a bunch of Bs, a few Cs and one D, in calculus. The math grade was no shock. I was in the National Honor Society during high school, but numbers were not my strength. Mrs. White had mercy senior year, passing me when it could have gone the other way and sabotaged my hopes of getting into Chapel Hill. But the Sociology of Sports? I was as confident as Al Wood open in the corner.

It was an eventful semester. I made what turned out to be a terrible spring break trip to visit a friend I’d hoped would be more than a friend. I came down with mononucleosis. Soon after regaining my strength, my father passed away after a tough illness. As the term wound down, though, I just knew I could type my way to an A in Sociology 95. I chose a subject I knew well: the Tar Heel men’s basketball team, detailing the dynamics and history of Dean Smith’s program, and handed in the paper on time.

In early May, during exam period, on one of those perfect spring days that gives resonance to Chapel Hill being called the “Southern Part of Heaven,” a friend and I played 18 holes at Finley Golf Course. Driving back to my apartment, a well-worn but cheap place down Hillsborough Street, I stopped by campus to find out what I’d made in Sociology 95.

There was a box of graded papers on the floor next to Dr. Wiggins’ closed office. The light was dim in the hallway, but it wasn’t too dark to quickly see what was written on the onion-skin page. I got an F in the Sociology of Sports.

Wiggins contended that my paper had not met the requirements set forth by the class syllabus, a view that, to my shock, was upheld when I formally appealed the grade. The first and only F of my life stood. My adviser, then the J-School dean, seemed mystified as well.

The F kept me from going to commencement at Kenan Stadium with my classmates a year later. I got to participate in a ceremony for journalism graduates at Howell Hall but received a blank sheet of paper instead of a diploma. I got my sheepskin in the mail a couple of months later after going to summer school to get my necessary credits.

Taking English and psychology courses, my syllabus for that session called for playing a lot of darts, drinking many beers and spending most afternoons at the Townhouse Apartments pool. I passed with flying colors.  PS

Southern Pines native Bill Fields, who writes about golf and other things, moved north in 1986 but hasn’t lost his accent. Bill can be reached at williamhfields@gmail.com.

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