Final Four Fever

Published 8:12 am Monday, April 6, 2009

WINDSOR – Sweet Home Carolina.

And not just the state.

For many in the Roanoke-Chowan region, Saturday will be an official family holiday. That will be the case for Jack Williford and his family in Windsor. They will join together for a meal, laughter and love for everyone.

The family holiday will be the University of North Carolina’s trip to the men’s basketball Final Four in Detroit, Michigan. While the team plays against Villanova University the Williford family will live and die by each shot and Sunday’s attitudes will likely be determined by Saturday’s outcome.

“We’re die-hards, there’s no doubt about it,” said Edith Williford, Jack’s wife and the matriarch of the family. “If Carolina is winning at half time, we go out in the yard and let the neighbors know all about it.”

Loving the Columbia blue and white has been a tradition in the family for nearly 50 years. Edith Williford said she had been a fan of the Tarheels all her life, but Jack admitted he wasn’t always a Carolina man.

“I was actually a State fan for many years, but I started going to the Institute of Government and spending time in Chapel Hill and I changed,” Williford admitted. “I did root for Carolina against Kansas in 1957, but we didn’t have a television, so I had to go somewhere else to watch it.”

The Williford’s daughter, Jackie Copeland, said she never remembered a time when she wasn’t a fan of UNC-Chapel Hill.

“Since birth,” she said. “As soon as mama had me, I was a Carolina fan.”

Copeland’s sister- Angela Mizelle – and husband – Hunter Copeland – are both fans of North Carolina State University.

“I told my husband that he could stay where he was tonight,” laughed Copeland. “Seriously, he’s in a meeting for work, but I teased him because we were going to talk about Carolina tonight.”

Mizelle said she would be rooting for the Tarheels during the NCAA tournament.

“I will, but it’s because they’re the only team from North Carolina left,” Mizelle said. “I’m doing it under duress.”

While Mizelle may not be a true Carolina fan, both of her children are.

“I’m a Carolina fan because of my granddaddy,” admitted Grantley Mizelle. “I’ve sat in his lap many times and watched Carolina games when I was little.

“I’ve been thrown on the floor a few times when he got really excited too,” Mizelle laughed.

Ashtyn Mizelle, Grantley’s younger sister, said she also followed a family member into the Carolina faithful.

“When I was little, my brother went to Dean Smith’s basketball camp,” Ashtyn Mizelle said. “Whatever he did, I did. He was a Carolina fan so I became one too.”

Now that the family has gotten older and moved into their own homes, they converge on the Copeland’s home to watch the Tarheels play. That’s where they are planning on watching tonight (Saturday).

“Everyone has assigned seats to watch the game at my house,” Copeland said. “No one is allowed to leave the room until halftime.”

“Superstition sets in that’s for sure,” Jack Williford laughed.

Ashtyn Mizelle said she watched a Carolina game recently with her friends instead of the family and received text messages from Copeland through the entire game. Grantley Mizelle said he had the same experience.

“I want to make sure they’re watching,” Copeland laughed.

This year’s Atlantic Coast Conference tournament saw the Willifords in Atlanta, Georgia for the event.

“Every year we give mom and dad tickets to the ACC tournament for Christmas,” Mizelle said. “This year when they were there, they would call us just so we could hear the crowd cheering for Carolina.”

Each of the family members support the Tarheels in everyday life as well. They estimated that from 30-60 percent of their casual wear has some reference to Carolina.

“My mother buys a lot of stuff for us and most of the time it has Carolina on it,” Copeland said.

All that leads to tonight when the Williford/Copeland/Mizelle clan will gather on U.S. 13 near Windsor have their meal and get ready for the Tarheels to take the court.

“We eat before the game if it’s a late game,” Copeland said. “Everything has to be done and put away and everyone in their seats by game time.”

When the team plays well, the family will celebrate.

“I have to admit when there’s a big play, I do a little dance and make everyone high-five me,” Copeland said.

“High-fives are pretty constant during the good times,” Jack Williford said.

The Williford family and all the other local Carolina fans hope there are plenty of them in tonight’s Final Four.