In the past week, we have welcomed back nearly 28,000 students ready to begin a new academic year. They included another stellar first-year class. And the very first group of Carolina Covenant Scholars, who entered four years ago, have begun their senior year.
Just as our students have brought their energy and enthusiasm back to Chapel Hill, the campus and community soon will be filled with tens of thousands of football fans for the start of the 2007 season, Saturday's game against James Madison University in Kenan Stadium.
It will be the home debut for our new head coach, Butch Davis, who has a record as both an outstanding coach and strong advocate of academic performance.
Whether you are a football fan or not, we all can appreciate the excitement of the game-day experience in Chapel Hill. On a football Saturday, our usually quiet campus becomes Tar Heel Town, and Franklin Street is packed with fans, their families and friends.
Kenan Stadium ranks second only to the Dean E. Smith Center as the top attraction in Orange County, the people at the Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau tell me.
And just as visitors fill the stands of Kenan for commencement each May, spending money on gifts and meals in local stores and restaurants, game-day visitors also have a positive economic impact on the town.
An economic impact study conducted by UNC Professor Nathan Tomasini made a conservative estimate of the economic impact of a home football game at Kenan Stadium.
Using the Nov. 5, 2005, Boston College-Carolina match-up as his guide, Tomasini estimated per-game economic impact at $6.8 million, with $452,898 per game in total tax revenue for the town.
This year, the university and our partners in the Town of Chapel Hill are collaborating to create an enhanced game-day experience that lingers long after the last seconds have ticked off the game clock.
This season marks the full implementation of the 5th Quarter Chapel Hill, a joint effort of the university, the Town of Chapel Hill, the Chapel Hill-Carrboro Chamber of Commerce, Chapel Hill/Orange County Visitors Bureau and the Chapel Hill Downtown Partnership.
As its name implies, the point of 5th Quarter is to encourage people to extend their game-day experience by celebrating downtown after the game instead of rushing for the highway and home. Services like extending the hours of some Tar Heel Express routes will give fans plenty of time to enjoy the fun activities, great restaurants and shops that Chapel Hill has to offer. (For more details and updates before each game, visit TarHeelBlue.com).
Meanwhile, on campus, Athletics Director Dick Baddour and his staff have been working on other ways to make game day even more enjoyable. One of these improvements is the growth of Tar Heel Town. Rick Steinbacher, Carolina's assistant athletic director for football operations, tells me that this year this popular tailgating alternative will be expanding from Polk Place across South Road to the grassy areas around the Bell Tower.
Fans will still be able to meet Rameses, get their faces painted and listen to the Marching Tar Heels, but now they will also be able to climb to the top of the Bell Tower and see that view. Coaches and players will pass through both parts of Tar Heel Town as part of their Old Well Walk before each game.
The Department of Athletics has also provided $100,000 to buy all new instruments for the marching band, which will now be seated in the west end zone to improve acoustical projection.
The band will also have a higher profile before each home game, when its members will split into six pep bands that will circle the stadium and play at each of the main gates about 40 minutes before kickoff.
Other enhancements include improvements in the speaker system, the creation of the "Tar Pit" student cheering section in the west end zone, new LED ribbon boards and fireworks at the game.
"Hark the sound" -- of Tar Heel voices, the marching band and fireworks this season. Kickoff is 6 p.m. Saturday. See you at Kenan Stadium. Go Heels!
James Moeser is chancellor of the University of North
Carolina at Chapel Hill. He welcomes readers’ messages