Shhh . . . Tar Heels Among Us

UNC fans at Duke celebrate one of the best rivalries in college sports

 Duke employees Lara Mekeel, left and Zarrin Brooks, right, love Duke and cheer for UNC.

Zarrin Brooks belongs to a special, perhaps secret, community at Duke: the Tar Heels fan base.

She's worked at Duke for 20 years but cheers for the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill.

"People assume that if you work at Duke you should be a Duke fan, but I married a Chapel Hill native, and my husband's grandmother would roll over in her grave if I cheered for Duke basketball," said Brooks, administrative manager in the Department of Anesthesiology.

March Madness is upon us, and the Duke-UNC rivalry is one of the biggest in college sports. Duke Coach Mike Krzyzewski tipped his win/loss ratio to 38/37 against UNC with the Feb. 14 win against the Tar Heels. The men's teams face off for their final regular season match on March 9 in Chapel Hill. On Sunday, the Duke women's basketball team won their second game this season against the Tar Heel women, finishing the night at 65 to 58.

Lara Mekeel, a UNC grad and financial analyst in the Department of Immunology hangs a poster of Tyler Hansbrough and other UNC paraphernalia discreetly on the back of her office door. Despite a low profile, most of her colleagues are aware of her Tar Heel allegiance.

"I figure I work for the School of Medicine, not the athletic program, so I'm not compromising my loyalty to UNC by working at Duke," Mekeel said. "But I do get a lot of good natured ribbing, especially when the games have been really close."

Brooks, on the other hand, is more visible about her Tar Heel affection. A UNC sticker is affixed to the nameplate outside her office door. A large "Tar Heels Fans Parking Only" sign dots her office wall. And she's not shy about wearing Carolina blue on big game days. That results in pranks from colleagues. One day, they dressed a UNC mascot in her office in a Duke T-shirt.

"The teasing gets more intense during basketball season, but it is always in good fun," Brooks said. "It definitely makes a hot topic for conversations the day after big games."

Kevin White, vice president and director of Athletics at Duke, is not surprised that the rivalry from the sports fields stretches into the workplace.

"Given the proximity of two great schools, it stands to reason there are North Carolina fans who work at Duke," he said. "Suffice it to say, there are probably a few Duke fans working at UNC, too."