I made my college decision on the floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium, much to my mom’s chagrin.
The story is far from unique: After the campus tour, my dad and I snuck into Cameron Indoor Stadium behind a maintenance worker who was pulling a cart through the student entrance. My dad took a picture of me standing on the edge of the court with the video screen in the background and sent it to my mom. It was that experience, being inside that stadium for the first time, that swayed me more than any other facet of the college admissions process—as it has for many others.
Until then, Duke had barely been on my list of potential schools. It was a throwaway addition, a filler that I was only considering applying to because one of my baseball coaches had gone here in the ’90s. As corny as it sounds, that all changed on Coach K Court.
My mom was skeptical, in part because our extensive family network covered virtually the entire country save the Carolinas and other bits of the South, and in part because she (quite accurately) thought I was letting basketball fandom get in the way of an otherwise rational college selection process.
My coach eventually told me the best way to sell my mom on Duke was to take her through the gardens, but I wanted to go for broke and try to sell her on Cameron, too.
She was a multi-sport athlete growing up in Minnetonka, Minnesota, and had started the girl’s ice hockey program at her high school.
But she was never a sports fan with the same kind of enthusiasm. Still, Mom has humored my near-psychologically unstable interest in sports since before I was ambulatory, when she would take me to Candlestick Park to see the Giants play. I had all the players’ jersey numbers memorized by the time I reached preschool, and little has changed in the years since.
In retrospect, I still should have known that my mission to “explain” the meaning of Cameron was doomed from the start. The two of us had barely been inside for 30 seconds before she stopped and turned to me with a mostly-forced smile and raising eyebrows, saying something along the lines of, “Wow, this is why you want to come to school here?”
I was disappointed, but not surprised. I knew she didn’t love sports the way I did, despite how much she had put up with watching them in order to spend time with my brother and me growing up.
Despite the inauspicious introduction, I’ve managed to convince her to come back for two games since—a 2009 Parent’s Weekend scrimmage against Pfeiffer and this season’s home win over Ohio State. Although I think she has enjoyed the spectacle of both—the atmosphere in Cameron is unmatched whether or not you’re interested in the sport being played—she still doesn’t totally understand why Duke embraces basketball in the way it does. I’m not sure my four years here have made me an expert on the subject by any means.
I get one last chance to convert her this week, when she and my dad come out to see Wednesday night’s game against North Carolina, but I don’t think I’ll try. Instead, I’ll just enjoy the time for what it is: the last time I’ll have with my parents in Durham before I graduate (knock on wood).
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I’ll still get to explain again why sleeping in a tent for six weeks left me with some of my best memories of this school, why it doesn’t matter that Duke won that game by more than 30 points, and why is doesn’t matter that the Tar Heels don’t look much better three years later.
I’ll still get to take her into Durham, to see the competing bumper stickers and store windows, to some of my favorite restaurants and not to Shooters II, but definitely to the tent called Shooters III.
I’ll still get to enjoy her face as we walk down the line of students wrapped around the Card Lot and K-Ville, as the temperature rises in Cameron and our seats begin to shake, and best of all, I’ll get to thank her once again for planning a trip across the country to see me on my terms and do something I love. Next year, she gets to pick where we meet.