Chapel Hill: Sports

Dixie Rock’s reputation continues to climb

Kai Lightning scales a wall during the 2014 Dixie Rock.
Kai Lightning scales a wall during the 2014 Dixie Rock. RANDY YOUNG

Formed around 500,000 years ago, the Appalachian Mountains that are the backbone of eastern North America are one of oldest mountain chains in America. In fact, the Uwharrie Mountains just south of Asheboro were once a system of peaks jutting higher than the Alps or Rockies and nearing 20,000 feet in elevation. And while erosion has taken its toll, softening jagged summits and reducing crests to rolling pine forests, many of these mountains still stretch majestically skyward.

Somewhat younger, a team of characters has banded together as a team to show local climbing enthusiasts that, despite a few years and a bit of erosion, they too can ascend proudly.

In accordance with this year’s theme of “Team Spirit” at the 26th annual Dixie Rock in the Chapel Hill Community Center gymnasium, “Team Wrinkly” will be comprised of the more experienced members of the local community.

Headed by the event’s founder, longtime Dixie Rock director Bill Webster, the team will compete in the Stonemaster’s 50-plus category, taking advantage of the “Team Spirit” contest-within-a-contest, brand new at this year’s event.

“Everybody still competes as individuals this year, but you can also pull together teams,” said Webster, who also is assistant director of the Chapel Hill Rec Department. “Your individual scores for 10 people on a team are averaged and will be the team score.

“I’m sure there’ll be some youth team from the Triangle Rock Club that will just crush us, but that’s not the point,” Webster added. “Just because you’re old, it doesn’t mean you can’t go climbing.”

This year’s venture, presented by Chapel Hill Parks and Recreation, embarks on the second quarter-century of what is unofficially the longest-running indoor climbing competition in the USA.

Competition will be in Recreational, Intermediate, and Open divisions, and kids’ and senior competitions will be held, with preliminary climbing beginning Friday night, March 27 and ending with finals on Saturday evening, March 28.

Dixie Rock climbers will scale holds affixed to simulated rock faces on the facility’s gymnasium walls.

Various climbing routes run the height of the 35-foot high textured walls on one end of the Community Center gym. Holds reflect various degrees of difficulty across the breadth of the entire climbing wall, according to their size and distance from one another.

This year’s “Team Spirit” theme not only allows for the creation of teams, but also prizes for team uniforms, team trivia contests, and mascots.

Dixie Rock also promises door prizes and sponsor booths in a low-key, family-friendly atmosphere.

As event coordinator, Sarah Wolfe has tried to inject new fun and excitement into the series. Last year, in commemoration of the event’s inception in 1989, Wolfe added a Spandex competition to the mix, which was won by Webster.

“I just have my own style,” Wolfe said. “Last year was the first year that I planned Dixie Rock, and it was the twenty-fifth anniversary, and I wanted to make that a lot of fun. But you’ve got to follow up a lot of fun with a lot of fun.”

“I came up with the (‘Team Spirit’) idea, and I just ran it by people,” Wolfe added. “I always like to bounce ideas off of other people who I think also have good ideas. Then you just have to figure out what works logistically. An idea is one thing; making it work is another. But this is a community event, and the Team Spirit theme really plays into the idea of people working together.”

Bill Webster said formation of “Team Wrinkly” simply is meant to add some fun.

“I was recently at a bouldering competition, and at that competition, they had the ‘Old Farts,’ and they were just 45 and older,” Webster said. “In the climbing world, the ages are a bit skewed.”

‘Our Team Wrinkly has 10 people, and I think about four of us are in our 60s, and the others are in their 50s,” said Webster, 61. “In the climbing world, that’s pretty old. Our mascot (Cynthia Gentry, 61) will be dressing up as a ‘Climbing Granny.’”

Wolfe said she has planned other attractions new to Dixie Rock for 2015.

“In addition to the team trivia, a mascot award, and an award for best team uniforms, we’ll have a Yogi in a warm-up area for the night of the finals,” she said. “We’ll have much more from our sponsors, who will have booths at the event.

Sponsors include Great Outdoor Provision Company, Townsend Bertram and Company, the Triangle Rock Club, Blue Ridge Outdoors Magazine, Ground Up Publishing, Dragonwing Girlgear, Mountain Khakis, Progression Climbing, and many more.

“Rodney Biddle from Progression Climbing is one of our route setters and they’re one of our sponsors,” Wolfe said.

Wolfe added that the event was still looking for volunteer help, and that anyone interested should contact her at 919-220-6292 or at

Registration for the event is $35 for Orange County residents and $42 for all others.

Those looking to register can do so at any Chapel Hill parks and recreation facility or online through the event website at More information is also available at the event’s Facebook site, at “Dixie Rock 26 – Climbing Competition – Team Spirit!”

“If you pre-register by Monday, March 23, you get a free T-shirt,” Wolfe said, adding that quantities were limited. “Only those that pre-register by 5 p.m. on Tuesday, March 24, will get a great bag of free swag from sponsors.”

More information is also available by calling the Chapel Hill Community Center at 919-968-2790, or by calling Bernard Leach at 919-968-2734 or emailing

With so many benefits for early-registration, there’s little reason to wait.

After all, unlike the Appalachians, the climbing walls at the Chapel Hill Community Center aren’t likely fall prey to erosion and magically diminish in height over the next few weeks.