Tar Heel Trailblazer: Rochelle Small-Toney

Rochelle Small-Toney had never played basketball before arriving at Carolina. But by her senior year, she was making history on the court.

Rochelle Small-Toney

Growing up in Wilmington, N.C., one of the primary rules inside Rochelle Small-Toney’s home was that the TV in her bedroom had to be turned off each night by 9.

Her parents, both teachers, stressed this so that she was well-rested for school. But unbeknownst to them, Small-Toney often placed a towel under her door to prevent the noises of North Carolina basketball broadcasts from exiting her bedroom.

“I would stay up ungodly hours at night watching the Carolina and South Carolina games,” she said. “They were always so exciting to watch, and I said, ‘Boy, I would certainly love to go to that school.'”

The thought of playing for the Tar Heels never entered her mind. Yet during her senior year at UNC in 1977-78, she accomplished that feat, becoming the school’s first African-American women’s varsity basketball player. Other firsts followed.

During a 35-year career in public service and local politics, Small-Toney became Savannah, Ga.’s first African-American and first female city manager. She currently holds the same position for Rocky Mount, N.C., and is also the first woman ever to serve in that role.

For all this, she’s been named a Tar Heel Trailblazer.

“For such a great university as UNC to look back on my past and to select me as a Trailblazer, it’s just one of the greatest highlights of my life at this point,” Small-Toney said. “I’m extremely proud, as I’ve always been, to say that I’m a Tar Heel and that I wear my blue very proudly. But to be recognized by the University is just beyond my wildest dreams or imagination.”

To read more of this story about Rochelle, visit GoHeels.com