Another icy gust of wind, and I’m instantly awake.
It is nearing four in the morning in the grassy section of campus in front of Wilson Gym. From memory, I can imagine the shabby rows of tents that line the cement walkway, but right now all I can see is the interior of the sleeping bag I have pulled over my head in an effort to keep warm. What temperature is it? Surely we’ve reached single digits by now. Regardless, my body can’t take much more of this. But it’s only four and I have three more hours to go before I can even think about leaving. So I burrow into what little warmth I have, close my eyes, and imagine myself outside of K-ville, at the game.
Krzyzewskiville, or K-ville for short, is “a phenomenon that occurs before major Duke-UNC men's basketball games at Duke University.” At least, that’s what Wikipedia describes it as. In reality, tenting in K-ville is an array of many things: the choice to sleep in a tent in freezing weather for countless nights, the relinquishment of afternoons spent trading day shifts in lieu of homework, and the constant dread of the siren that can sound at any time and, if you miss it, cost your tent their spot in line.
For the past two years, I have come together with eleven friends and tented for the Duke-UNC games. There are three varying degrees of commitment to tenting. Black tenting, by far the longest and most intense of the three, requires each of the twelve members of the tent to sleep under only a tarp for the first week of tenting, then continue on in a tent with the blue tenters. As this usually occurs in January, one can imagine the horror of having to attempt sleep in the middle of winter snow, rain, or sleet. Understandably, only the most committed Duke basketball fans rise to the challenge, trading sleep and warmth in order to get front row tickets to the game.
Blue tenters compose the vast majority of K-ville. Up until the day of the game, the twelve people in a tent must have one person in the tent at all times during the day, and six people sleeping in K-ville at night. There are tent checks (brought on by the blaring siren that echoes through the grounds) led by line monitors, and the repercussions of missing a tent check are strict: miss one and you have a warning, miss two and you’re moved to the back of the line. This holds true for black tenting; two missed tent checks moves black tenters to the bottom of the line, behind the line of blue tenters. A grace period is granted after every tent check, sending students scurrying for the warmth of the nearest dorm or IM gym, whichever is closest.
White tenting is the final category, rounding K-ville out to maximum capacity at 100 tents. White tenting begins two weeks before the game, and begins with a campus-wide dash to find the individual who will give your tent a number in line; because there are usually more white tents than K-ville can hold, the hunt is critical for tenters to snag a coveted place in line. Once granted a placement, the remaining two weeks become relatively easy compared to the rest of tenting: while one person is still required in the tent at all times, only two people must sleep in the tent at night.
The last two days before the game are broken down into personal checks, where checks are no longer by tent but individual. Each tenter must make three out of the five tent checks over the course of two days; generally, two are called the first night and three the second, forcing everyone to stay within the boundaries of K-ville late into the night. As a result, personal checks turn into a massive gathering, drawing tenters and non-tenters alike to join in on the pre-basketball game festivities. Once a person makes their three tent checks, they are free to go home for the night and prepare for the game the next day.
So why do people do it? Every year, hundreds of students forgo other commitments for the cold of K-ville, all for a spot in the crowded student section in Cameron Indoor Stadium. Students stand slanted sideways to fit more people in, and spend the entirety of the game craning their necks over the shoulders and handmade signs of their classmates in order to see the outcome. Perhaps it is because of the feeling that sweeps the student section when Duke has the ball or completes a particularly difficult maneuver; I swear, you can hear the cheering from across campus.
I am nowhere close to being the biggest Duke basketball fan on campus, but I do feel the sense of camaraderie in the fans, the same feeling that sweeps me in during games and makes me hoarse the next day from screaming the night before. I haven’t been to every Duke game but I know the chants; I know that once a free throw is called we all raise our hands towards the player, silently waiting for the ball to find its way into the net.
All the anticipation of over a month’s worth of tenting, of being wet and cold and tired, is caught up with the ball as it arcs its way over the key and towards the hoop. The students are quiet for the first time since their entrance into the stadium, and we wait as one for the conclusion. And once it is done, after everyone forgets the specific point made or lost during the excitement of the game, the fellowship between the students remains. The post-win celebrations are fantastic, the post-losses terrible, but regardless of win or loss, we all feel as a single entity for one day. I am not the biggest basketball fan on campus, but I would tent for two more years to be a part of that community again.