Tenting in K-Ville: Paying for the Duke-UNC men's basketball game, not with money, but your well-being

Feb. 25, 2022. 9 p.m. Durham, N.C. 

It is 33 degrees on the weekend before Mike Krzyzewski’s final home game against North Carolina. Hundreds of Duke students stand outside of the beloved Cameron Indoor Stadium, celebrating the beginning of the last night of the 2022 tenting season. The air reeks of alcohol and vomit, and there are clear signs of exhaustion on the faces of all who have survived the tenting season.

The siren blares for the last tent check of the night, and our tent — the Super Gremlin Tent — scrambles to their check-in location. We pass the final check, let out a collective sigh of relief, and celebrate by snapping one last picture together. Stumbling back to the warmth of Hollows A, the group can finally relax. We will be in attendance at Coach K’s final game in Cameron, 41 years after his first.

* * *

The patch of grass outside Cameron became known as Krzyzewskiville, or K-Ville for short, in the 1986 season when 15 students decided they would set up tents days before tip-off of that season’s battle with the Tar Heels, getting ahead of the line that would typically begin on gameday. By game time, there were over 75 tents. From there, tenting grew into a process that is now overseen by Duke Athletics and Duke Student Government, with a special committee of line monitors ensuring each tent group has followed the very particular rules to remain eligible for tickets. 

Sleeping in a tent for weeks to watch the greatest rivalry in college sports is something that few can relate to. From the outside, spectators see hundreds of students dedicating themselves to school spirit and enjoying each other’s company. But on the inside, the process can be demanding and draining, pushing many to their breaking points. Over the years, tenting has evolved into an operation that can adversely affect the physical and mental health of its participants and those that have committed to overseeing it. 

‘I felt like I had wasted two days because of one night in the tent’

Cameron DeChurch, a senior, remembers one bone-chilling night during his 2022 tenting season experience. Tenters are given “grace” for the night if the temperature drops below 26, meaning they don’t have to sleep in the tent but can sleep in their dorms. But on this night in particular, it teetered between 25 and 26 degrees. 

“I was suffering. There were nights when all I could do was stare at the weather app, praying it would drop below 26 degrees. I couldn’t fall asleep because it was so cold,” he said.

“The next day, I kept getting headaches from the lack of sleep. I couldn’t pay attention in class, was in an extremely bad mood, and felt like I had wasted two entire days because of one night in the tent,” he continued. 

Tent checks are called two, three, sometimes even four times per night by a blaring siren. Students are forced to trudge over to the entrance of Cameron and stand in line while line monitors ensure that each tent has enough members there. 

It is no surprise that a lack of sleep can negatively impact students. Sleep deprivation can lead to memory issues, trouble thinking, mood changes, weakened immunity and many more negative health effects. When you wake up multiple times a night, forced to stand out in the cold to pass your check, and then have to lie back in your sleeping bag completely still to ignore the freezing temperatures so you can rest, deprivation sets in fast. 

The first Tuesday night of this year’s tenting season comes to mind as the perfect example. All 10 members of the Super Gremlin Tent were tucked into their sleeping bags when the night shift started at 1 a.m., ready to get whatever sleep they could. But other tents around us did not have the same idea. The sounds of music, drinking games and karaoke filled the air around the tent, making it impossible to get rest. Hours ticked by, and the partying pushed on. By 4 a.m., all 10 of the Super Gremlins accepted the fact that we were getting no sleep that night. 

The symptoms DeChurch describes hardly scratch the surface. Last season, the floor of my room was covered in clothes. Layers upon layers of hoodies, long underwear, and socks were ready to go at a moment's notice, just in case I had to cover someone’s shift. My laundry basket was full, and my trash cans overflowed. I had no energy to function. 

By the end of the season, I had over 55 day hours and 13 full nights spent inside of the tent. 

More than once, I elected to sleep through lectures just to catch up on a few of the many hours I had lost. My grades dropped and I fell behind. At one point, I had missed five classes in a row because I couldn’t fathom getting out of bed. 

‘I just accepted the fact that my assignment would be late’

But it’s not just the sleep deprivation that gets to those who tent. The cold weather gets in the way of so much more. 

Senior Grant Lyerly recounts his struggle. At times, he’d be working on problem sets and the cold would kill his laptop. Without his laptop, Lyerly was forced to either work on his phone, where he had to remove his gloves just to type. 

“Entering in complex equations on your phone when you can barely feel your fingers was painful. More than once I just gave up and accepted the fact that my assignment would be turned in late,” he said. 

Like Lyerly, I also experienced the struggle of completing assignments in the cold. In order to survive the cold on my hands, I would type for 10 minutes, then try to warm up for 10 minutes. It was the only way I could actually get things done without being subject to an excruciating cold, which would greatly interfere with my focus. Because of these constant breaks, work took significantly longer to complete and began piling up. 

At Duke, a school that takes pride in its academics more than basketball, those who choose to tent may struggle to keep up with the academic rigor.

The American Psychological Association explains how increasing stress levels can affect the body and the mind. For the body, stress can cause heart issues, trouble breathing, slower digestion, lower sexual desire, and a response to danger. For the mind, stress can increase anxiety and depression, as well as make it even more difficult to sleep.

With up to 12 students in 130 tents each, about one-fifth of the student population could be experiencing these symptoms for several weeks. 

While every tenter may not be affected by these issues in the same way, we can still expect that a large portion of the group suffers somehow. When I polled my own tent on their experience last year, the group unanimously agreed that tenting added a significant amount of stress to their lives. 

Tenting as a social opportunity — but at what cost?

In K-Ville, you can also expect to find students playing drinking games every Thursday, Friday and Saturday night, all of them united in the fact that they have to spend the night outside. The drinking culture in K-Ville is strong and the alcohol is plentiful, with most tents keeping their own stack of 24-racks of beer. They’re used both as an escape from the stress of the week and an escape from the cold. 

The Super Gremlin Tent is no exception. By the end of our three weeks in the tent during this season, the bill totaled over $300 in just alcohol expenses. 

For Vance Johnson, a senior, the drinking wasn’t a party for him on most nights. 

“The lack of sleep along with the amount I drank had me feeling very stressed and on edge,” he said.

The nights were long, and the hangovers were longer. Running on very little sleep, weekends become unproductive. And, as you can imagine, that only piled on the stress. 

Johnson estimates that he averaged about seven or eight drinks a night, twice a week. For myself, the numbers were similar. The National Institute on Alcohol Abuse and Alcoholism classifies heavy drinking at more than 14 drinks a week for men and seven for women. For Johnson, myself and many others who were mainstays in K-Ville on the weekend, it put our risk of health issues even higher. 

A combination of sleep deprivation, stress, and alcohol has caused a built-up resentment for the whole process.

The grass isn’t always greener 

As tenters’ temper boils over, it gets taken out on those in charge of the process. The line monitors become the target of all of the grievances. 

In last year’s K-Ville community group chat, line monitors were consistently made fun of. One in every five messages would refer to them as “Line Lickers” or “Line Fraudetors.” Now, these names were not the best display of the high levels of creativity you’d expect from Duke students, but the sentiment was clear — all of the grievances tenters experienced were seen as the fault of those above them. 

But for the monitors, the process is just as difficult. One line monitor, in her second year in the role, told me how the organization becomes a target for participants’ anger. 

“Being in the organization as a whole, you can definitely feel that sometimes. It’s hard because so many of [the tenters] don’t realize how much time we have to put into the process, too,” she said.

She explains that monitors, like tenters, have to dedicate hours of their lives every single day, estimating that a single, non-rivalry game can take up to seven hours of her time. So much of that time, she said, is dedicated to ensuring that the process is equitable to everyone.

* * *

I love K-Ville. My college life would not be the same without it. When I first applied to Duke, it was activities like tenting, and its community, that drew me in. I wanted a school where I could balance hard work with great athletics. And, in all honesty, most of my favorite memories as a Blue Devil have taken place during the tenting season. 

But most of my worst moments happened during that time, too. While it’s okay to celebrate the passion these Duke students bring to the table, it’s important to also acknowledge what many other tenters are thinking — that it is not without its many, many hardships. 


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