Sunday, March 2, 1986 marked the end of a remarkable season for the Duke men’s basketball team. The Blue Devils were 28-2, undefeated at home and ranked No. 2 in the country leading up to their game against No. 3 North Carolina. And Duke students had noticed—a number had been waiting in line for a week see the team one more time.
“It was the first game that people really camped out in significant numbers,” said Jose Isasi, Trinity ‘89. “Prior to that season people would camp out, but there weren’t that many and they weren’t that early.”
While students waited in line, head coach Mike Krzyzewski came out to deliver pizzas to the crowd and walked recruits for future teams out to meet the tenters. Tents stretched from the Cameron entrance back to Card Gym. The night before the game, Isasi said, was just “one enormous party.”
But even though the number of students in line grew each day leading up to the game, there was no system to determine the order of people in line or how long they had been there. Krzyzewskiville, as it existed in its earliest form, was policing itself, and with results highly frustrating to some.
“There was more than one incident of people just having their tents moved to the back of the line [if no one was there],” Isasi said.
On Sunday morning, those who had been waiting in line for multiple days and nights awoke to find that other fans had simply walked around the tents that had been pitched and had jumped—albeit rudely—the tenters’ place in the line. Isasi said the confusion resulted in a frantic rush to get to the doors before they opened.
This incident sparked the need for more order in the line, but it resulted in the formation of an organization on campus that would dictate and influence K-Ville during the next 30 years.
The early days
Prior to that Carolina game, the order of those in line was documented by little more than a piece of paper with names on it, kept by one of the earliest arrivals at a given game. For many of those games, the guy with the paper was Jason Evans, Trinity ’89, who camped out for games as a freshman in the 1985-86 season.
“I was the dude who was making sure that there wasn’t anything nefarious going on with the line,” Evans said.
Evans would write down the student who was first for every game—usually a student named Andy Luks, he said—then himself and his friends, and he would add tent groups to the list as they showed up. Informal line checks would occur from time to time, but never on Friday or Saturday nights.
After the Carolina game incident, Isasi became the de-facto Head Line Monitor for the 1987-88 season—though he stressed that it was in no way an official title but more of a general job description—through his affiliation with Associated Students for Duke University, the precursor to Duke Student Government.
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He passed a policy through the ASDU legislature that birthed what is now a cornerstone of tenting: the tent check. A far cry from today’s systematic process of Duke cards, digital rosters and siren warnings, the original tent checks involved Isasi carrying a clipboard around K-Ville and looking for one member in each tent.
“It was very informal,” Isasi said. “I walked down the sidewalk, called into tents and saw who was there and put a check mark. I could do a whole tent check in five minutes.”
Black, blue, white
Given the hype that Duke basketball receives across the nation, it’s not surprising that students would put in great effort to get into games for the low cost of zero dollars. But the excitement also had the potential to deter students from even trying, given the level of commitment that has been expected of tenters in recent years.
“There was this myth that you couldn’t get into games unless you lined up for five hours,” said 2007-08 Head Line Monitor Roberto Bazzani, Trinity ’08. “We tried to dispel that.”
Years earlier, conscious efforts to make tenting accessible for both hardcore and “casual tenters” had been a focus of 2001-02 Head Line Monitor Greg Skidmore, Trinity ’02.
Skidmore instituted a system in which students could go to K-ville in the early morning before classes started and get a wristband that would allow them into the game, saving them the trouble of running back and forth from.
But trying to get into the Carolina game has always required unabridged commitment for the majority of the semester. Following a very late game against Carolina in 2000, line monitors received complaints about the length of the tenting season. The amount of interest in tenting and the effort required to get into the game was becoming less realistic if the stands of Section 17 were to be filled.
“There was a lot of peer pressure. Once tents started going up you had to get out there as soon as possible,” said 2000-01 Head Line Monitor Norm Bradley, Pratt ‘01. “A number of students and administrators were concerned about having students living outside for two months.”
Enter Blue and White tenting. Bradley invented a system—the fundamentals of which are still employed today—which split tenting into two distinct phases. In the first phase, Blue, a higher proportion of a tent would be required to stay at the tent both during the day and at night. The second phase, White, would start later into the semester and require fewer tenters to be present.
Since that year, the order of White tents has been determined by an annual “Race to the Secret Spot” in which a location name or clue to a location is posted online at a designated date and time. It is then up to the tenting teams to have one of their members reach the head line monitor at the secret spot before the last tent positions are claimed. Other secret spots have included hideaways on Central Campus, the Medical Center, as well as President Richard Brodhead’s driveway.
Bradley put the White tenting secret spot at the 50-yard line in Wallace Wade Stadium. At 7 a.m. the location was posted to the tenting website, and by 7:03 Bradley could see students sprinting down the stairs of the stadium.
“This was before cell phones,” he said. “It was wild.”
The perks of being a line monitor
It’s well-known that line monitors have reserved space in Section 17 in some of the first few rows, directly across from the Duke bench—a position that has garnered some criticism in the past from students who have slept out for weeks for worse seats.
The issue of where to put the line monitors in Cameron wasn’t something that the line monitors themselves had considered at the time of their formation, Isasi said. At the first game in the 1986-87 season a staff member in Cameron called the line monitors to go in before the tenters, to their surprise. The line monitors ended up choosing to sit as a group halfway between center court and the basket across from the visitor bench, behind the first row, foregoing the alluring front-and-center seats for a lower profile location.
“We talked among ourselves and decided that if we took those seats, everything we worked for would have been destroyed,” Isasi said. “There would have been a petition that Monday to cancel the program.”
But even though the seats they took were not prime, Evans said there was plenty of noise from dissatisfied tenters as the line monitors would pass the line outside Cameron on their way in.
“The line monitors would go in in front of everyone but they would not sit in the front row… They recognized that that wasn’t really fair. If you want to get the prime seats, then you tent,” Evans said. “If they had been in front, there would have been trouble.”
The job also gives line monitors the chance to rub shoulders with athletics staff, basketball players and, on the rare occasion, Krzyzewski—Morano once spoke alongside Krzyzewski to freshmen to excite them about basketball and tenting before the season started.
But line monitors past and present note that the job comes with its own commitment and trials, as well as plenty of hours spent in K-Ville to show for it, with little recognition from the student body. Michael Marion, Trinity ’15 and co-Head Line Monitor for 2014-15, noted that he thinks the criticism stems from the thought that the line monitors don’t put in the work to earn their perks.
“There’s a lot of behind-the-scenes stuff that people don’t see,” said senior Wendy Burr, co-Head Line Monitor this season. “It’s so much work.”
Burr said she sometimes spends up to 10 hours a day in K-Ville, but the commitment feels nonstop with the amount she must keep up with emails, K-Ville social media accounts, planning ahead for upcoming games and meetings with athletics, marketing and administrators.
“We worked really hard for everyone who wanted to get in,” Skidmore said. “It’s not like we were taking the center court. It was a fair trade for the work we did.”
‘A thankless job’
The mechanism for 1,200 students to guarantee their admission into the Carolina game is a direct result of the line monitor program, but that also puts tenters at the mercy of the line monitors and their authority. Past line monitors, as a result, recall being on the receiving end of a mixture of tenters’ feelings.
“I have met a number of people who, after graduating, said ‘You were a jackass and I really hated you because you were strict,’” Burrill said.
Morano admitted lying to tenters that tents set up before the start of the semester would be confiscated by the grounds staff—they weren’t, but there was a desire to limit the number of people who showed up before school started. Additionally, because some had pinned down her course schedule, she would sometimes miss class to call a tent check in order maintain the element of surprise.
“I was known as a bit of a hard-ass,” Morano said.
But despite their frustrations the tenters her year still showed affection, once in the form of a get-well card signed by many tenters after she suffered burns on her hand in a cooking accident.
Still other line monitors were scolded for not being strict enough. Bazzani said he was relatively lax with calling tent checks, which garnered criticism as well.
“I didn’t want the tenters to be miserable,” he said. “It’s supposed to be fun and it’s supposed to be about building community. It’s not supposed to be a punishment that is going to make you question why you’re even dealing with all this.”
The line monitors’ relationship with administrators has also evolved over the years, resulting in changing expectations in what the line monitors are to be responsible for. Sue Wasiolek, associate vice president for student affairs and dean of students, said that in early years it was assumed that the line monitors would, in addition to supervising the line, police K-Ville to enforce University rules like preventing underage drinking and drinking games.
Over time, though, this responsibility fell off from the line monitors themselves to lie with actual security personnel. Line monitors still keep a general watch and interact with administrators like Wasiolek and UCAE Director of Student Life David Pittman, and tend to pass along situations to authority outside of K-Ville.
“No one ever came up to me and told me, you need to keep a watchful eye,” Skidmore said. “But I was in a position of access and… able to see things. There were a few times I’d… discreetly intervene. If I saw things that weren’t necessarily safe, I alerted the right people.”
Marion noted that all line monitors today must undergo party monitor training even if they have already had it.
“There is the understanding between line monitors and administration that line monitors were expected to demonstrate leadership and make sure that people are staying safe,” Marion said.
Others with less familiarity with K-Ville have had less faith in line monitors in the past. Burrill said he once received an email from a furious parent addressed to him and administrators including Wasiolek, Vice President for Student Affairs Larry Moneta and President Brodhead, accusing him of hazing their children and making them live in unsafe and inhumane conditions. In response he outlined the various safety precautions in place—including grace for tenters at freezing temperatures—but that it was an argument to take up with their child, not him. He emphasized that tenting is, after all, a voluntary activity.
Keepers of K-Ville
The level of responsibility and recognizability that line monitors have advanced to in recent years is not unlike that of an elected campus representative, and yet each new Head Line Monitor has historically been selected internally by the current Head Line Monitor or Monitors, and then approved by the DSG Senate. The line monitor organization exists as a branch of DSG, from which it receives its funding and which must pass the K-Ville policy proposed by Head Line Monitors each year. Head Line Monitors also occupy a cabinet-level position in the DSG president’s cabinet.
DSG President Keizra Mecklai, a senior, said she has not heard of an instance in which the student or students chosen by a Head Line Monitor to succeed them has even been declined by the Senate.
The line monitors can set the tone for the tent season and many have tried by planning events and surprises like hot chocolate for a midnight tent check, or getting students excited for a certain game. Skidmore, for example, put on outdoor screenings of classic Duke games leading up to the Carolina game in 2002. Marion was known for his rousing speeches and leading the student section at the Final Four in Indianapolis.
K-Ville existed before the line monitors, so one might wonder if it could live on after them. Originally a self-governing, self-sustaining piece of Duke culture, K-Ville today has 29 line monitors enforcing a 30-page tenting policy and running text message updates, a listserv, Facebook and Twitter accounts and a website through which students can register their tents.
“My administrative colleagues are generally not as rule-oriented as students. When students are put in charge, what happens are more rules that we ever would imagine,” Wasiolek said. “I suspect that if students said ‘We are not interested in governing this,’ K-Ville would fall apart.”
The institution of tenting and line monitoring as it stands has gone quite a ways from Jason Evans and his list of names on a piece of paper, but one thing that has remained constant is that the tradition has been run by some of the most passionate fans who would have been at the front of the line if not in charge of the line.
“I remember saying when I had that job that I would never have a better job, and I think that’s true,” Bradley said.
Burrill said he still has his Head Line Monitor jacket, noting that he wore it to both the 2010 and 2015 national championship games.
But although line monitors are in place to dictate K-Ville policy and keep crowds in control, the Crazies of old demonstrated that their authority is not meant to be absolute.
In the 1980s there had been a tradition of bringing tennis balls into Cameron, and once the stands filled up the Crazies would thrown them across the court to each other. Cameron staff was, Isasi said, “rightly concerned” about someone getting hurt or balls falling all over the court. Isasi and the other line monitors dutifully passed the word to students in line to stop bring tennis balls. At the next game, the stands filled with students with no tennis balls in sight. They congratulated themselves on their authority, but the Crazies had other ideas.
“We’re all looking at ourselves very happy that we were so persuasive,” he said. “Literally maybe 30 seconds after that, more tennis balls than I’ve ever seen go flying across the court.”
In the end, instead of squelching the tradition, the line monitors decided to encourage the Crazies to do it more.