Normally around this time of year, the Cameron Crazies would be making last-second Amazon purchases for blue face paint and putting the finishing touches on their game day outfit.
But this year, sophomore Emily Mittleman won’t get to show off her signature blue morph suit in Cameron Indoor Stadium.
And Krzyzewskiville won’t be filled with over 100 tents packed with sleep-deprived students competing for a coveted ticket to the Duke vs. North Carolina game.
And last, but certainly not least, when “Everytime We Touch” blares through the Cameron Indoor Stadium speakers right before tipoff of the Tobacco Road rivalry contest, Section 17 won’t have those students packed in like sardines screaming at the top of their lungs.
Thus is the modern-day plight of the Cameron Crazie, a now stadium-less fan longing to let out boisterous hoots and hollers as their beloved Blue Devils take on the Tar Heels. From freshmen to seniors to line monitors, the same solemn tone about missing the big game rings true throughout campus.
“What I’m probably gonna miss the most is just being in Cameron, like the energy of it,” Mittleman said. “Nothing really compares to the energy in Cameron when everyone is cheering so loud and everything like that.”
‘Keep the K-Ville community going’
For many students, K-Ville is a pivotal part of the Duke experience, and junior Nitin Subramanian already knows he will make every moment count during the 2021-22 season.
“In past years, if I had to study or have a test or something, I’m like, ‘I’m probably not gonna go to the game,’” Subramanian said. “But next year it feels like the very last chance I’ll have to be in Cameron, really, so [I’m] gonna try to make every game. Obviously gonna black tent and everything, too.”
The days Subramanian speaks of are still far away, and while fully recreating the buzz that surrounds a typical Tobacco Road rivalry game is impossible right now, Duke’s governing body of K-Ville, the line monitors, created an app to salvage the experience as best they can.
“We kind of came up with this way, with [Duke] Athletics, to keep the K-Ville community going,” co-head line monitor Hope Morales said.
On a side note, Duke students may know Morales as the line monitor who brings a plastic baby doll into every Duke game and hoists it up like Simba on the jumbotron. And for those wondering, the baby does still in fact go to every Duke home game thanks to Coach K’s daughter, Debbie Savarino, who sets the baby up with a great seat to watch all the action.
The way the line monitor’s app, Bleachr, works is similar to the structure of K-Ville tenting in a normal year. Students can virtually group into tents of up to 10 people, and in the weeks leading up to the big game, there are online competitions where the tents can earn points.
Since the normal incentives are temporarily on hold, the line monitors created a new reward system to liven up the remote K-Ville experience. The big carrot dangling at the end of the rope this year for the virtual tent with the most points is tickets to a to-be-named-later Duke game against an ACC opponent in the 2021-22 season.
Now, the tenters reading this article may be wondering why the number of people allowed in one tent is 10 as opposed to the typical 12, and that’s just another obstacle that line monitors and virtual tenters alike have had to navigate.
The line monitors opted to change the tent number from 12 to 10 in an effort to make it possible for students to meet in person (while following all Duke and Durham public health guidelines) with their tent group if they so choose to.
In addition to the virtual tenting feature of the app, all Duke students are free to tune in for some of the other services the app offers, including a virtual pregame show before every home game.
“We’re reenacting the pregame show virtually, so before the game you can tune into the little Zoom call,” co-head line monitor Camden Vassallo said. “And we play ‘Everytime We Touch,’ ‘All I Do Is Win,’ they do the lights and the player introductions and there’s a little chat. It’s like a Twitch/Zoom hybrid.”
A unifying experience
While the line monitors may be able to provide some sort of pregame and game day experience for Duke students, the annual bench-burning after a Duke win is something that, at this point, will be completely lost.
For anyone unfamiliar with the tradition, each year, in the event that the Blue Devils beat the Tar Heels in Cameron Indoor Stadium, there is a University-sanctioned bench-burning in the quads of West Campus. Students scurry out of the stadium, dorm rooms and off-campus apartments immediately after the final buzzer sounds to celebrate with their classmates around the makeshift bonfire.
For freshman Sue Zhang, missing out on the bench-burning is even worse than missing out on watching the actual game. She will have to wait another year to experience the “moment of camaraderie” that she was looking forward to experiencing as a Blue Devil.
Right there alongside Zhang is senior George Cook, who vividly remembers going to a Duke-North Carolina game during his senior year of high school and watching the bench-burning afterward.
“When I was a senior in high school and went to the game, I went to the bench-burning after. I think for me, that kind of helped cement my belief that Duke was the school that I wanted to go to,” Cook said.
But that’s not the only reason Cook will miss the game day experience this year.
“I think it sometimes feels that Duke can be a divided school between Greek life, SLGs, independent people, engineers, Trinity students, etc.” Cook wrote. “I think UNC game day is one of those times when the whole student body can have fun together and enjoy being Duke students.”
Junior Andrew Rasetti has gotten to experience multiple Tobacco Road rivalry games and a bench-burning himself, and he echoed a similar sentiment as Cook.
“I think such a big part of the game is coming together after the game and celebrating it, and so I’m not totally sure how that would play out,” Rasetti said. “I would guess nothing will happen because nothing can happen. I’m definitely bummed about that. I love the game itself but I’m also a big fan of the after party.”
That after party Rasetti speaks of includes tangible events like bench-burning, but is more so the unspoken connection between Duke students that Cook mentioned.
“I think that’s something that’s sort of an unparalleled level of emotion, and I think it’ll be pretty hard to replicate that even with a win this year,” Rasetti said.
‘Make it as close to actual game day as we can’
It may be difficult this year to replicate the true experience surrounding a Duke vs. North Carolina game, but that won’t stop certain Cameron Crazies from trying, in a safe manner.
Mittleman’s blue morph suit will in fact be making another appearance on game day, only this year it will only be seen by the handful of friends she plans to watch the game with.
“We’re definitely gonna go all out and try to make it as close to actual game day as we can,” Mittleman said.
As much as some students may try, though, it will be next to impossible to make this matchup feel like it has in past years.
There will be a day when the Cameron Crazies once again stand in line outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium, dousing themselves in blue body paint while shivering in the 40-degree Durham winter. The air will be filled with a combination of excitement to watch Duke play and hatred for North Carolina, and all will be well again in the hearts of the Cameron Crazies.
But until then:
“We’re trying to maintain and uphold what, in my opinion, [is] the best tradition at Duke, which is the fact that we have the most die hard basketball fans,” Vassallo said.
Editor's note: This article is one of many in The Chronicle and The Daily Tar Heel's annual rivalry edition. Find the rest here.
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Jake Piazza is a Trinity senior and was sports editor of The Chronicle's 117th volume.