or to dinner, the lights come on at Ehringhaus and Hooker fields, the gyms fill at
Woollen and Fetzer and the pools populate
at Bowman-Gray and Koury Natatorium.
Seventeen hundred student-athletes of a
different sort pull on their cleats, their tennis shoes or their Speedos and, for two or
three hours, practice as they once did at
childhood parks or on neighborhood
streets, calling their own shots.
On the weekends, with no TV cameras
or press boxes or NCAA presence looming
in the wings, they compete against other
universities while wearing Carolina colors,
something most never dreamed of doing.
Along the way, they learn to represent
UNC within an organizational model that
requires community service, fundraising
and self-sustaining leadership, blending
timeless life skills with old-fashioned athletic purpose.
And yes, they also win national championships.
Old sport, new outlook
When he was 11, Adrian Cummins
made the Barbados national swim team.
Natural thing, to learn to swim when you
grow up on an island, but Cummins and
water had a relationship that transcended
backstrokes and butterflies. In the off-season, to keep in shape, he and his teammates
played water polo, and Cummins was so
talented at that sport that he also made its
junior national team three years later, then
joined the Barbados national water polo
team at age 15.
But when it came time to go to college, he wasn’t looking for a school where
he could play water polo so much as he
was looking for a different island. “My criterion was that I wanted to be two plane
flights away from home,” he says. “I felt like
I needed a change.”
Cummins had his eye on the East Coast
— far, but not too far from home — even
though virtually no varsity water polo teams
existed from Maine to Florida. When he
chose UNC, he figured he’d hang around
Chapel Hill for two years, maybe compete
for the varsity swim team and then transfer
to a school that played varsity water polo for
the remainder of his college career.
Then, two months after landing on
Virginia Ariail’s rugby
a rash of ACL
injuries, and she
dished out a broken
nose. A three-sport
player in high school,
“I needed to find
something to get
involved with, to find
that group. At a university this big, you
need something to
tie yourself in with
opposite page, was
an elite water polo
player in Barbados
and had to learn to
ratchet back to just
plain fun. He also
learned that he had
a lot of patience —
and that maybe he’d
be a good coach.