by Alex Hager
Redemption. That was the word on everyone’s lips as thousands of people clad in Carolina blue swarmed Franklin Street in Chapel Hill on Monday night.
After falling in the final seconds of last year’s NCAA National Championship basketball game, the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill beat Gonzaga in Glendale, Ariz., and fans back on campus celebrated in grand fashion.
In one of UNC’s most famous athletic traditions, throngs of Carolina faithful formed a sea of celebration on the corner of Franklin Street and Columbia Street in downtown Chapel Hill. An estimated 55,000 people took to the streets in the early hours of Tuesday morning, according to the Town of Chapel Hill. Many of the revelers were students who poured out of the neighborhood’s iconic bars, while others streamed in from dorms across campus and the school’s official watch party at the Dean Smith Center.
The Tar Heels sealed their victory shortly before midnight, but the lateness of the hour didn’t seem to dampen the festivities, which only began to dissipate around 1 a.m.
Chants and music filled the air and dancing ensued in the streets, displaying widespread elation following UNC’s first national title since 2009. Inside the densely-packed crowd, fans encircled bonfires in the street, burning newspaper, shoes and even sofas in celebration. Others climbed light and electricity poles on street corners, perilously suspended dozens of feet above the street.
Heavy police presence in the area kept the celebrations safe, as uniformed officers guarded light poles, watched the scene from above, and stood sentry throughout the crowd. The town of Chapel Hill reported only seven injuries, including four burn-related injuries.