The number of Americans who can remember a segregated nation is dwindling every year.
Few teachers or coaches at local schools were alive when Jim Crow was in effect, and only slightly more alive when Dr. Martin Luther King was assassinated.
Chapel Hill high school football coach Isaac March is 39 years old. Of African-American ancestry, Marsh had never knew heard of Martin Luther King until his parents told him as a child.
My parents told me about him and his beliefs in equal rights and equality, and regardless of what someone would do to you and you dont have to retaliate in a violent manner, Marsh recalled last week. That was the first time I had ever heard Dr. Kings message. Thats what my parents taught me.
Watching black and white students mingling in the hallway outside the Chapel Hill High School gym, Marsh contemplated what King would think about the world of American sports, especially in the South, where it was years after passage of the Civil Rights Act that blacks were allowed to play on white-dominated NCAA teams.
I think he would believe that we are moving in the right direction, Marsh said. He would feel that we are moving in the right direction in terms of the way our athletic teams are set up with diversity amongst the teams, the players and the coaches.
Sports is perhaps the most egalitarian of all American activities.
In sports, an athlete is judged not by the color of skin, but by the quality of play.
Rich, poor, male, female, black, white, African, American or green Martian. It doesnt matter.
Put the ball over the goal line, through the hoop or in the hole and somebody, somewhere will pay you.
Few could realize that Oakland Raiders owner Al Davis would be a champion of civil rights when he said, Just win, baby.
Carrboro basketball coach John Alcox was 2 years old when King died. He first learned about King by asking his mother about the meaning of Kings I Have A Dream speech.
In a profound understanding of racial equality, Alcox views the action by Texas-El Paso coach Don Haskins, a white man, to start an all-black team in the NCAA championship game, as important as any words.
It had never been done before. Don Haskins was the first to do it, Alcox noted. As far as my sport, basketball, is concerned, what he did was as important as what Dr. King did.
For many in this mundane world, where the powerful can be schmoozed and votes can be bought, sports remains a welcome respite of meritocracy.
But theres more to it than that. Sports not only reflect the blended world in which we live, they also encourage brotherhood.
You simply cannot work side-by-side with other people under stress, experiencing his pain, her effort, their triumphs, without at least beginning to identify with them.
Chapel Hill High School teammates Kendall Simms and Brad Randall know that.
If Dr, King hadnt been here, I would not be in the same classroom with my white friends like Brad Randall, Simms said. I get to go to a great school like this and live in this community and to be treated as an equal member of this community.
Yes, I believe that sports are a great equalizer, because it doesnt matter what color you are black, white, yellow, red, Randall said. It doesnt matter where you come from or who you are, when you are on the field you are equal to everyone else.