Aye Zigga Zoomba

For the past several months, we have had a lot of fun over at the Tar Pit discussing various aspects of what used to be a UNC football tradition. At one time, the singing of "Aye Zigga Zoomba" at UNC football games was almost as popular as "The Old Song" is sung by the Virginia folks at UVA games. Maybe not quite as much of a tradition but to Tar Heels who attended games at Kenan in the early 50's, no game was complete without the band playing AZZ and the students joining in to sing. Prior to researching the matter I would have guessed that AZZ was sung during the Justice era but my guess would have been wrong.

A little bit of background. AZZ was introduced to Carolina fans in 1950 by Norman Sper, the head cheerleader at the time. Sper was an also an All-American swimmer and was from all places, California. Not that there's anything wrong with being from California but when I was at UNC there weren't many students there from the "Golden State." Sper also introduced "card tricks" to UNC which was extremely popular on the West Coast at the time.

AZZ originated in one of two ways and I guess it's possible that both ways are correct. The first explanation is that AZZ was a campfire song traditionally sung at summer camps and other such gatherings. I have confirmed this in writing plus I have talked with someone who remembers the song being sung at a camp she attended prior to 1950. The other explanation is that it is an old African chant and that the word Zulu was the original word that later became "Tar Heel." You know, like "mow 'em down you Tar Heel warriors" except according to this origin explanation, the words were "mow 'em down, you Zulu Chieftain."

But here is where the controversy begins. Those who were at Carolina when the song was introduced swear that the original words were "mow" 'em down while many of those who attended Carolina later swear they have always known the words to be "roll" 'em down. It started out harmlessly enough but finally developed into a small scale war of words between the "old timers" and the younger fans.

Well, the question of why the song was no longer played came up and there was considerable interest expressed by the older fans to have the song played again and hopefully adopted as a part of the UNC football traditions which are in rather short supply.

As I am inclined to do since retiring, I became a "rebel with a cause" ( apologies to James Dean) and I volunteered to contact Jeffrey Fuchs, the UNC Band Director and ask that AZZ be played at football games. Fuchs replied and said that AZZ was in the band's repertoire and that it would be played "from time to time."

Nothing happened in the first four home games and I had considered giving up on the project as a "lost cause" but it's not my nature to give up. So, I wrote Band Director Fuchs again and asked about the song and this time I asked for reasons the song was not going to be played if, in fact, that was the case. No answer.

Prior to the Duke game, I asked a member of the band whether there had been any consideration given to my (our) request and she said that while she couldn't guarantee the song would be played at the Duke game, they had been practicing it all week. Needless to say, I was encouraged that we might hear AZZ again.

The Duke game was special for me since, for the first time, I sat in the Chancellor's box. I'll tell you about that later but I think it goes without saying that I was excited more than usual. In my excitement, I didn't hear the song played but I confirmed from two different sources that it was played. A member of the band told me after the game that it was played three times. I was so embarrassed that I didn't hear it when it was played that I haven't shared this with anyone until now. I did write Director Fuchs and thank him for playing what had become a very important song for a lot of us. It had become more than a song, it had become a symbol for tradition. I will write later about some of the traditions that are no longer around that I think are still appropriate and should be reinstituted at UNC. Like James Taylor singing "In My Mind, I'm Going To Carolina" at both football and basketball games, the hand flipped scoreboard in the Smith Center, the BBQ out of the little trailer outside the old field house, parking on sidewalks or the athletic fields, etc.

It amazed me how many younger Tar Heels inquired on the board when this subject was raging as to what exactly was AZZ. They had no idea what it was since they had never heard it but there was no shortage of "old timers" who were willing to explain it to them. I notice now that the words are even printed on some of the cups from the concession stand and these words confirm what the younger fans were saying in that "roll" 'em down is given as the correct wording instead of "mow." I'm still a "mow" person myself but I can accept "roll" if they will just continue to play it.

Some of you may wonder why I write about this subject when I assume most viewers of this site also frequent The Tar Pit and UNCbasketball.com and would have read of the attempt to have the song played as it occurred. One of my objectives in maintaining this site is to chronicle UNC sports activities of the past for two groups of people. One is the group that likes to engage in nostalgia about past Carolina sports activities and the other is the group that would like to learn of the same. Message boards do not retain posts in such a way as to make it easy to access previous messages on a specific subject. This article will remain on this site as long as I maintain it and, hopefully, there will be those who discover the site later and have some interest.

In the meantime, Aye Zigga Zoomba. I'm ashamed to admit when I was singing the song in the 50's, I thought the words were I Zigga Zoomba, whatever that would have meant. Heck, I talked with some older Heels who can't even remember being at the games. But that's another story for another time.