Long recognized along with the Kentucky Derby, the UNC/Duke basketball rivalry, and the Daytona 500 as one of the premier sporting events of the Confederacy, the fabled Trinidad Cup of the UNC Department of Surgery has modest beginnings in the mists of time. Southern historians have found numerous references to a local game of "sport and footrace" among the medicine men of Native American tribes in the Lumber River area. Oral tradition seems to have carried these reports into written accounts about The Lost Colony and other settlers along the Inner Sounds of the Carolinas. Sir Walter Raleigh himself records in a letter to Parliament a payment of "12 gold guineas to Dr. Blairton Cagey, Esq. for victory for Her Majesties Cup.” Except for a lithograph in the Tryon Palace archives depicting a "Jolly Race Among the Barber and Surgeons in the New World" in the late seventeenth century, further references to a "Trinidad Cup" thereafter disappear. Reports of a "Carib Cup" among the Confederate Medical Corps abound but historians have thus far been unable to corroborate this with any archaeological data.
With the establishment of the University of North Carolina in 1789, secret "Races for the Cup" are held annually in the late spring. Despite the disapproval of the University administration, thousands attend these late night bacchanals and the victors win coveted induction into the secretive Ghimgoul Society. At the turn of the century, the festivities rival the Harvard-Yale gridiron contests in popularity and the radio broadcast of the 1911 Cup draws more listeners than the World Series that year. Now known as the "Island Race,” the event is finally and officially recognized in 1976 with the support and backing Dr. Robert Croom III and Dr. O. C. Mendes, who argue a case for legitimacy in front of the UNC Board of Trustees. Dr. Croom eloquently expresses the hallowed tradition that the Cup has become in his summation:
"Mah fellow Carolingians, this is something bigger than the all of us. It is of Olympian stature and epitomizes the Grace, Beauty and Dignity of the Southern Gentleman of Medical and Surgical Means. Ah implore y'all to give this Great Sporting Tradition the respect and credibility it so justly deserves and place it amidst the Southern Pantheon of Greatness beside NASCAR, grits and Dean Smith."
By now, the "Cup," as it is affectionately known among its worldwide fans, has grown so big and influential that it is not without critics. Much of the complaint is directed at the boosters and sanctioning body - known as the "Friends of the Cup” (FOTC) - that now organize and run the race. They accuse supporters of being blind to a less savory history of the Cup during the privations of the post-war Reconstruction, when it had "degenerated into an orgy of public drunkenness and BBQ among ill-tempered surgical residents." Others charge that the race was created to celebrate the exploits of Caribbean islanders as they took advantage of unsuspecting tourists and that its "nobly competitive" distance of 43 yards actually represents the length that an island street urchin must run across a beach "from a tourist's wallet to the shade of the palms.” It is around this time that the "Cup" became linked with the island of Trinidad in the public mind, taking the official title "The Trinidad Cup" in 1978. Dr. Croom addresses some of this history and some of these concerns in his recounting of the Cup origins:
Despite these criticisms, the "Trinidad Cup" continues to grow in popularity, is watched by billions each spring, and stands as a historic and dynamic celebration of the UNC Surgical Spirit. Its legacy assured, the Cup moves boldly into the future epitomizing its motto: