Nobody has ever said it’s easy to be a Duke football fan. But in 1973, almost four decades ago, a well-known figure at the University began following the Blue Devils. This support has not wavered in the 39 years since.
Ever since home opener of the 1973 season, a victory against conference rival Virginia, Dean of Students Sue Wasiolek has been a constant at Wallace Wade Stadium. In that time the administrator affectionately known as Dean Sue has missed just one home game, a victory against Clemson in 1994.
“Even as a student I did my best to stay for every single game,” Wasiolek said. “Attendance at football games when I was an undergrad was actually probably better than the last several years here.”
She became a fan while here as a student and continued when she joined the University’s administration. Ever since she joined the administration, she has sat in Section 6 opposite the student section with the same crew of people. But when Duke clinched its first bowl berth in 18 years last Saturday against North Carolina, the atmosphere still wowed her.
“The crowd was something I have not witnessed in a couple of decades,” she said. “Not only the size but their enthusiasm and their endurance—they stayed for the whole game, which I thought was tremendous. It had to have made a difference.”
The lone game she missed was at the request of her father. A World War II veteran, he asked her to accompany him to a crew reunion in Cape Cod, Mass., assuring her that she could watch the game on television. Although the game was not broadcast, Wasiolek is glad she accompanied her father to this reunion as he passed away a few years later.
Wasiolek credits her father and older brother for instilling a love of sports in her during her time growing up, something she has furthered while at Duke.
“[My father] loved sports, and I think the reason that I grew up really enjoying being a spectator of almost every sport was because of him and my older brother. If I wanted to talk to either one of them about anything I better know something about sports,” she said. “We watched a lot of sporting events together, primarily on television. I also went to many of my games at my high school and even in junior high.”
In addition to attending every home game, in recent years Wasiolek has also accompanied the Blue Devils to away games on the team’s charter flight. She said she enjoys the away games even more because she can really focus on the action on the field and not worry about the actions and well-being of the students.
Wasiolek has many anecdotes from her travels cheering the Blue Devils around the country and even around the globe. The game against North Carolina last weekend, with fans holding pom-poms, brought back memories of the time she followed Duke all the way to Tokyo in 1990 for the now defunct Coca-Cola Classic.
“The fans [in Tokyo], we were told, did not know very much if anything about the game of football, but they were very enthusiastic,” Wasiolek said. “Everyone went into the stadium with a pom-pom and it didn’t matter who had the ball and it didn’t matter what was happening during the game, the fans just shook their pom-poms the entire game, almost to the point of it being humorous. And I felt that way on Saturday as I was watching the student section … but the difference is the students knew … to shake their pom-poms to support Duke.”
Wasiolek was present at both of the only postseason trips Duke has earned in the last 50 years, the loss to Texas Tech in the 1989 All-American Bowl and the loss to Wisconsin in the Hall of Fame Bowl in 1995. She said that even though the team has only those two trips to show for their efforts, she respects the team’s perseverance and how the team carries itself.
Today, she has developed a close relationship with head coach David Cutcliffe. The two regularly exchange text messages and Cutcliffe even asked her to speak to the team before the season began, something she said was a great honor.
“She told us that she believed in us, and she knew that this was the year that we would get to a bowl and get those wins,” redshirt senior Tony Foster said. “She told us to just be confident and to keep fighting and to enjoy the process because she knew it would be a special year.”
Wasiolek also has a bond with many of the players who appreciate the dedication she has given to the team.
Foster said that he used Wasiolek’s relentless support as motivation to work hard and get results so she can have something to cheer about.
“Dean Sue, you see her around a lot. She’s not a shy person. We all love her. We love the energy she brings to us,” Foster said. “She always has a smile on her face, and she’s the type of person who will brighten up your worst day. You speak to her and she’ll always have something nice to say. She’s a great person.”
Offensive tackle Takoby Cofield echoed his gratitude and is glad to have Dean Sue on his side.
“Her supporting us is huge. Having a faithful fan there that has seen it through the good and the bad times, it’s pretty much a parallel to the commitment that we have,” Cofield said.
There have been more than 200 home games since 1973 and Wasiolek has only missed one. This Saturday will be like every other, Dean Sue will once again be in Section 6 of Wallace Wade Stadium, supporting the Blue Devils.