I decided I wanted to attend Duke Jan. 17, 2001. I was watching my Maryland Terrapins play against (and ultimately lose to) the Blue Devils at Cameron Indoor Stadium. As the teams played, I watched the students going crazy in the bleachers, and knew I had to be a part of that.
My dad and I visited Duke’s campus later that spring on a truly beautiful Durham day. After the obligatory info session and campus tour, we drove over to Cameron. We parked in front of the entrance near Wallace Wade Stadium and walked up to the door. Surprisingly, it was open. Even more surprisingly, the door that led into the seating bowl was open. We walked in. It was dark and the student bleachers were tucked away under the stands. Directly across from us (now moved) hung the retired jerseys—Ferry, Laettner, Hurley, Hill. Above us hung three national championship banners. Earlier that day, the tour guide had taken us to the Chapel, but Cameron Indoor felt a thousand times more sacred. This was my place.
Of course, I wound up applying early decision to Princeton and getting deferred (and eventually rejected). But as I watched the Blue Devils on ESPN, I knew that I didn’t belong at Princeton anyway. I belonged at Duke. More specifically, I belonged at Cameron Indoor Stadium.
I went to Cameron again during October of my freshman year for “Cameron 101,” a “class” to teach freshmen all of the cheers they would need to know. We sat on the bleachers as upperclassmen went through the basics—jump and yell all game, “Rip ’em up, tear ’em up,” etc. I spent most of the session looking around in awe; more than my first lecture in Gross Chem, more than my first fraternity party, this felt like my initiation as a Duke student.
There were other moments over the next eight years: when Jason Williams (maybe nine months removed from the motorcycle accident that almost killed him) appeared under a spotlight at center court at Midnight Madness my freshman year; the first time the Cameron Indoor crowd was so loud that I couldn’t actually hear myself screaming; when Chris Duhon’s almost-buzzer beater beat Florida State from right in front of Duke’s bench; when Coach K started a walk-on named Patrick Davidson against Wake Forest, simply to agitate Deacon star Chris Paul; when UNC’s Jackie Manuel leapt into the stands after a loose ball and landed on me; when my friend convinced UNC’s Rashad McCants to let him take a shot from the bleachers during warm-ups; when J.J. Redick anticipated the Tar Heels’ last play, and the ball bounced out of bounds, and the Blue Devils upset the soon-to-be national champions, 72-71; all the times when we used to count Redick’s consecutive three-pointers during warm-ups; when Sean Dockery hit a three-quarter-court shot to beat Virginia Tech; when Lee Melchionni, tears in his eyes, kissed the court on senior night; when I, tears in my eyes, put my arms around my friends and listened to the alma mater after the last game I attended as an undergrad; when Brian Zoubek threw down a nasty tip-dunk against Maryland; when Coach K singled me out in front of the entire student body at the pep rally prior to the UNC game and told me that he didn’t agree with my columns; when Duke beat UNC 82-50, in a game that wasn’t even as close as the final score indicated; when Gordon Heyward’s shot was a couple inches long, and the ball bounced away, and I stood there with the Thomas Hill Face of Disbelief for a full five minutes; when Ryan Kelly hit that three, and Nolan Smith did that dance, and the Blue Devils came from 16 down to beat the Tar Heels and Cameron Indoor sounded like a jet engine for a full 60 minutes.
In eight years, I went to well over 100 games in Cameron Indoor Stadium. I can count the number of times that I was available and chose not to attend a game on one hand, if not on one finger. Aside from Blackwell and Few Quad (where I used to live) and the hospital (where I basically live) and maybe the Armadillo Grill bathroom, I’ve spent more time in Cameron than any other place on campus. And that’s not even counting the hours I’ve spent waiting outside of Cameron to get in, or the hours hatching a plan to wait to get in or the hours wishing it were basketball season so I could wait to get in.
As I walked out of the stadium after the game against Clemson two weeks ago, I thought about the fact that I would never watch another game from the student section. It felt like the end of an era—or more specifically, the end of my Duke student experience—in a way that I doubt my second graduation weekend will.
So, a bit of advice: Find those people, places and things that are meaningful to you. Make them priorities in your life. Celebrate every moment with them. Remember that in the end, those moments will be all you have.
Alex Fanaroff is a fourth-year medical student. His column runs every Wednesday.
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