Politics, smack talk and team loyalty

by Lenise Willis

Photo by Tamera Izlar

Triad Stage often taps into its regional roots, presenting productions by great Southern writers as well as Appalachian originals. But this time the theater finally found the one thing that unites us all together””what each North Carolinian bleeds for””March Madness.

Preston Lane, artistic director and co-founder, has done it again and created an original drama that truly hits home for his audience. Although “the Tarheel state” is home to many rivalries, including those between State, Duke and Wake Forest fans, the residents are brought together through their shared love of smack talk and college basketball.

The world-premiere drama, Common Enemy, highlights a tiny North Carolina university, Zebulon College, which is headed to the NCAA after a season of upsets. But all of that becomes threatened after an assistant professor digs a little too deep into a student’s academic background and the school’s cover up.

The play correctly highlights North Carolina basketball as more than just a sport””it’s about family, loyalty and even politics. The play leaves the audience pondering NCAA regulations, honesty in sports, the financial beast of college basketball, and even the importance of academics vs. athletics.

The set, styled as a basketball court with big screens above the stage, feels like home to fans. Even a few real game clips from UNC and Duke are broadcast.

Sheila Willis and Michael Soles, die-hard NC State and UNC fans, saw the play last Tuesday. Both grew up in a small North Carolina town consumed by March Madness and appreciated the play’s commentary on the sport’s Southern significance.

“There were some funny references about Southern basketball”” and it’s true””we eat it; we live it; we breathe it, and it’s tradition,” Willis said.

“That’s what I did growing up,” she continued. “I watched Carolina basketball with Daddy””way back when to (UNC player) Rusty Clark looking for his contact lens on the court.” Of course, she’s now labeled as “a traitor” in her family, since she switched to the Wolfpack after dating and marrying a State graduate.

“You watched the games, you went to school the next day and talked about the game and your bragging rights,” Soles added. “I would pretend to be Bobby Jones and Mitch Kupchak. We’d pretend to be the players and you had a bond with the team and its history because you’ve invested so many years in it.”

Both got a big laugh out of the smack talk that was included in the play, although Soles felt it was a little one-sided to his and Willis’ true common enemy.

“It sounded more Duke-sided than Carolina, with Duke winning and Coach K being God and Carolina’s supposed scandal,” Soles said. “I took it all in good humor though. We always cut up with each other about Carolina and Duke, so that didn’t bother me.”

Soles and Willis also felt divided on what they felt was right and wrong when it came to athletes getting a free pass in academics.

“(Basketball) does provide a lot of opportunities for kids without money; it does provide a way out of their lifestyle (for players from poor communities), but it’s not right for them not to have an education or not to be able to even read,” said Willis, who’s also a K-12 educator.

“It’s not fair,” Soles said. “Why should they get off scot-free (academically) and then end up making millions of dollars and getting rewarded for it? But at least this way they can make their own money (even without an education). It’s kind of like the difference between what’s right and what’s best.”

“There’s a lot of gray; it’s not just black and white,” Willis added. In response to the potential school scandal , Soles and Willis both felt like that was another gray area.

“It’s like a fundraiser for the school (and the town),” Willis said, which is why the sport is so important to the community and why some administrators may call their morals into question, for the good of the school and town.

The play definitely resurrects memories of watching the games and yelling at the TV, while experiencing camaraderie among friends and family. But it mostly comments on the modern-day politics of basketball and academics. The audience must be prepared for thought-provoking questions and an elevated conversation on what’s right and wrong. !



Triad Stage finishes its run of Common Enemy this week through Sunday at the Pyrle Theater, 232 S. Elm St., Greensboro. Tickets are $10-$48 depending on day and seating. For tickets and more information visit or call 272-0160.