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Wineka column: Give me a U-N-C – Salisbury natives cheering for Carolina

SALISBURY — As University of North Carolina basketball player Kendall Marshall crashed to the floor last Sunday in an important NCAA Tournament game, he tumbled toward cheerleaders Jordan Oakes and Hayley Mikkelson, who were crouched along the baseline.
Oakes and Mikkelson joked that they should have thrown down their pompoms to cushion Marshall’s landing, as the point guard rose to his feet and continued playing for several more minutes.
It wasn’t until after the game that Tar Heel Nation heard Marshall had fractured his right wrist, putting his tournament future in doubt.
Had Oakes and Mikkelson known then what they know now, they probably would have thrown themselves on the floor to prevent Marshall’s injury. That’s how deep their blood runs for the Tar Heel blue.
Salisbury High School graduates Oakes and Mikkelson have legitimate reasons for their UNC passion, beyond the obvious.
Oakes’ mother, Cindy, and brother, Jonathan, are UNC graduates. Jordan says she has pretty much been a Tar Heel fan since birth.
Mikkelson’s mother, Winnie, was a Tar Heel cheerleader from 1977-79 and, in 1978, was a member of UNC’s national championship cheerleading squad in the first year the competition was held.
That’s not to say tournament time doesn’t cause some interesting dynamics in their respective households.
Oakes’ father, Sid, roots for another shade of blue — the Big Blue of the University of Kentucky, ranked No. 1 in the polls.
Mikkelson’s dad, Dan, is an engineering graduate of N.C. State. The Wolfpack’s basketball team also is in St. Louis and it plays tonight on the same court, after the UNC game.
Mikkelson has learned to attend University of North Carolina football and basketball games and cheer for his daughter, while otherwise giving tepid support for UNC, as long as the Tar Heels aren’t playing State.
That’s tremendous growth for him, Mikkelson says. When he attended the UNC-State football game, he agreed not to wear the Wolfpack colors. But he wouldn’t wear UNC blue, either.
He was the only person in the stadium in green that day, Dan Mikkelson says.
“If they both win (tonight, and play each other Sunday), I’m going to have to ignore that game,” Mikkelson adds.
He knows it would be the best thing for family harmony.
Jordan Oakes is a senior captain; Hayley Mikkelson, a junior. Both are, in the cheerleading vernacular, “flyers.” They are often up in the air, being tossed and standing atop male stunt partners.
Oakes, because she is a senior, also has the honor of being one of the women holding up letter cards that spell out “U-N-C,” an especially popular and time-honored cheer at home games. Oakes is the letter “U.”
Both Oakes and Mikkelson have cheered at all the home games and traveled with the basketball team to Atlanta for the Atlantic Coast Conference Tournament, to Greensboro for the first two NCAA Tournament games and now, St. Louis.
Oakes loved visiting the aquarium in Atlanta and feels sure the squad will see some sights in St. Louis.
“We’ve already discussed a team picture in front of The Arch,” Oakes says.
Over their careers, the women’s cheerleading duties have taken Mikkelson to Albuquerque, N.M., with the UNC women’s basketball team. Oakes has gone as far west as Seattle, Wash., with the women Tar Heels.
“Our team always bonds when we travel,” Mikkelson says. “It’s a great opportunity not many people have.”
Oakes and Mikkelson met for the first time when they were youngsters and already participating in gymnastics. They reconnected in high school, and their paths, though different, led them to being varsity cheerleading sisters at UNC.
Cheerleading — the games, practices and other commitments — forces Oakes and Mikkelson to become experts in time management.
“I can’t lie and say that it’s easy,” says Mikkelson, a communications major with a public relations minor.
Oakes is a biology major, a demanding line of study with all of its lab work, but she will be graduating on time later this spring.
Oakes and Mikkelson can’t say enough about the thrill of being down on the floor, in the thick of March Madness.
“It’s been a lot of fun,” Mikkelson says. “The last game — our crowd was more involved than ever.”
The Salisbury women are getting plenty of face time on television, thanks to the ACC and NCAA tournaments.
Look for them tonight. Who knows, if a UNC player goes crashing toward the floor, they might be there to catch him.
Contact Mark Wineka at 704-797-4263, or mwineka@ salisburypost.com

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