It is rarely difficult to write about sports at the University of North Carolina.
The men’s basketball team has been the unanimous #1 selection of the pollsters since the preseason, and Tyler Hansbrough just passed Phil Ford to become UNC’s all-time leading scorer.
The women’s basketball team currently sits at #2 in the polls.
Just last week, the women’s soccer team wrapped up its 19th NCAA title in the 27-year history of the tournament, an astonishing achievement.
But for the inaugural post of this blog, I’d like to focus on a peripheral story, a story that is at times devastating, uplifting, tear-jerking, motivating, frustrating and inspiring. It is the story of Jason Ray, the young man who put on a “sweaty Ram’s head” and became Rameses (UNC’s mascot) to thousands of adoring fans.
In some of his free time during 2008′s “March Madness,” the annual NCAA men’s basketball tournament, Jason had been walking on the side of the road, well off the highway, heading back to his hotel. In a moment that would directly affect the lives of hundreds and indirectly affect the lives of many thousands more, he was struck by a vehicle and killed. It later would turn out that the driver of the car allegedly did not have a valid license and that his father had switched seats with him before the police arrived. Charges have been filed and the case is still pending.
On that day, it seemed that everyone in college basketball was a Tar Heel, as they mourned the loss of Jason. I didn’t know Jason myself, though I was in his graduating class of 2007 at UNC. I knew others who knew him and they never stopped talking about his intelligence and sense of humor, how much he enjoyed life, and how many smiles he brought to kids’ faces.
Jason didn’t stop caring about others, even in death. He was an organ donor and, in this tragic moment, a small heart on his driver’s license and the courageous decisions of his family gave the gift of life to many others. Some lives were saved thanks to his organs and tissues; others were vastly improved. The Ray family has remained active in promoting donor awareness, and a special has even aired on ESPN (E: 360). For the full story, see this ESPN link.
I work in a major transplant center, and I see the impact that donors like Jason Ray have on the sick and dying. I also see the positive impact of advocates like the Ray family.
This blog will be about UNC and ACC sports, primarily. But for just a moment, I want it to be about the graciousness and the gifts given by a very special mascot and a very special person. Thanks, Jason … we miss you. Go Heels!
For those of you who are interested and live in North Carolina, you can now sign up online here to be an organ and / or tissue donor.