Cameron Crazies receiving “grace” from tenting and lining responsibilities has never been so spiritual.
At last night’s contest between the Blue Devils and archrival North Carolina, blue body paint was abundant as always. But this season a number of Cameron Crazies added smears of black ash to their gameday wardrobes as a number of Duke basketball fans observed the Christian holiday Ash Wednesday, which marks the beginning of the 40-day period of Lent.
To better accommodate its students who were attending last night’s game, the Duke Catholic Center moved its usual 7:30 p.m. mass in the Duke Chapel to services in Yoh Football Center at 3:30 and 5 p.m. so that students could worship without having to stray too far from the pregame festivities in Krzyzewskiville.
“We realized that if we had a 7:30 p.m. service, nobody would be there. So we explored other times to have something for students and tried to be sensitive to class schedules,” said Fr. Michael Martin, Director of the Duke Catholic Center. “But so many students are in Krzyzewskiville and in that area, and thanks to Coach Cutcliffe and the football program, we were able to use a space that was convenient for all of the students who would be out there at that time.”
Although holding the service right before the biggest home basketball game of the year would usually be seen as a deterrent for student attendance, Martin added that the mass’s location may have helped the Catholic Center boost their Ash Wednesday attendance this year. Martin estimated that last year, more than 700 students attended the Catholic Center’s two masses, with the majority of students electing to attend the later service.
“We talked about it possibly helping our attendance, and if that is the case, let’s play this game on Ash Wednesday every year,” Martin said. “And God knows, a little prayer before a Duke-Carolina game never hurt anybody.”
Ash Wednesday, a holiday based on the lunar calendar, usually falls anywhere from early February to early March each year. But having the holiday fall on the same night of the Duke’s first matchup with North Carolina is not terribly uncommon. The two teams usually meet the second Wednesday in February, and the holiday coincided with the teams’ first matchup of the season in both 2005 and 2008.
Sophomore Elisa Oliver, who attended Wednesday’s 5 p.m. mass, said holding mass in the Yoh Football Center provided churchgoers with a unique Ash Wednesday experience.
“It was definitely a sight I had never seen before. We were sitting in church and my feet were on a turf football field,” Oliver said. “It was great walking to church through Krzyzewskiville and seeing the students painting themselves and lining up. Especially with the game right after it was a pretty amazing day.”
Martin even tailored his service to the day’s basketball related festivities, speaking about Duke basketball and school spirit in his homily—a commentary that follows the reading of scripture—and relating this week’s Bible passages to the Blue Devils’ showdown with North Carolina.
Oliver added that a large percentage of the congregation was not dressed for a church service, but rather Duke’s biggest rivalry game of the season.
“Everyone there was in Duke blue and it looked like almost all of them were going to the game, so it was really smart on the part of the Catholic Center to utilize that space for mass,” Oliver said. “Nobody was painted up yet, but it would have been pretty crazy to see people painted up for church.”
While Duke basketball head coach Mike Krzyzewski celebrated his 66th birthday on the day of the game, the game held added significance as he is Catholic. Krzyzewski did not wear ashes on his forehead during the Blue Devils’ 73-68 victory against the Tar Heels, but Duke football head coach David Cutcliffe was sporting his ashes when he was featured on camera during the game and was reported to have attended mass at the football center that afternoon.
Martin declined to comment on the religious practices of Duke coaches and student athletes, but said it is common to see members of the men’s basketball program attending services on Ash Wednesday every year.
“Coach K has been very gracious to me, and I appreciate all of his support,” Martin said. “The best I can do is pray for him and his team.”