On Thursday, Feb. 27, 1986, a group of Duke students from the Mirecourt House decided over a game of quarters that they wanted to get a jump on securing seats to see the No. 1 Blue Devils host their archenemy, the No. 3 UNC Tar Heels.
The group, made up mostly of ROTC cadets, pitched tents next to Cameron Indoor Stadium a full four days before what became a glorious Sunday afternoon 82-74 Duke victory. As they camped, Mike Krzyzewski, in his sixth season as head coach, brought pizzas to the Duke devotees.
When one of them scribbled “Krzyzewskiville” onto a piece of cardboard and taped it to a post, college basketball’s most famous village was born.
On Saturday, 36 years, 12 Final Fours and five national championships later, the Heels will be back in Cameron. Coach K will be on the sidelines of his home court for the last time. This year’s edition of pre-Carolina “K-Ville” was much more than a handful of tents on a lawn. There were 70, staked into the grass between Wilson Gym and Cameron Indoor for 32 days.
How does it work? How badly does everyone smell? We sent a camera into all that dark blue nylon to find out.
This year’s encampment began on Jan. 23, four days after the infamous blue tenting test, a one-hour, 14-page exam covering every facet of Duke hoops, from the history of the UNC rivalry to the life of Coach K. (“Who was Coach K’s High School Basketball Coach?”) A record 175 12-member tent teams showed up at Cameron for the test. The 70 highest-scoring tents, 840 students in all, earned a spot on the lawn.
When the COVID-19 omicron variant surged during the holidays, it forced Duke to delay in-person classes until Jan. 18 and students feared K-Ville would be shut down for the second straight year. Instead, limits were placed on in-tent living. Instead of 10 overnight residents, teams were allowed six. But the number of daylight campers remained the same, at two per team.
After nearly four decades of hoops season hardiness, K-Ville residents do not fear the elements. However, the university will not let residents stay out if overnight temperatures drop below 25 degrees, if there is two more inches of snowfall or if winds top 35 mph. Says senior econ major Cam Polo of Philadelphia: “My parents are like, ‘Really? We’re paying a lot of money for that dorm room and you’re in a tent in the cold?'”
Members of the team titled “Dumblemoore’s Army” are leaping into the sunlight, beckoned by the blow of a horn that signifies a tent check. Those checks are held randomly and around the clock. “My first camp was my sophomore year, and those first checks were a lot to handle, especially when there are four in one night, at 4 AM, whenever,” explains Camden Nelson, a senior pre-med student from Charlotte. “As a senior, it’s not shocking, it’s fun.”
That check horn is like Pavlov’s bell. The instant it blares, all K-Ville residents must present their student IDs to the line monitors, such as Cameron Jarnot, seen here doing the checking. Any team that fails to have the required number of members on site — two during the day, six at night — gets one “miss.” A second means surrendering their spot to one of the squads who was left stuck on the waiting list after the blue tenting test.
During this year’s pre-UNC encampment, there were four home games played next door, including the contest for which you see these K-Ville residents pregaming, the 88-70 win over Florida State on Feb. 19, the penultimate home game of the season. “I think FSU was the day that a lot of realizations started settling in for all of us,” recalls Sam Freder, a senior econ major from Montreal. “Coach K’s last home game. Our last game as seniors. Our last time living in Krzyzewskiville. It’s all very real now.”
It’s no secret that Cameron Crazies love body paint, but what student Belle Almendinger is doing might also lead to better seats for the Carolina game. K-Ville residents accrue bonus points via a series of contests — including body painting — and for attending other Duke sporting events, from women’s hoops to lacrosse. Those points can lead to a better spot in line when the doors open Saturday afternoon and the rush for the best seats begins.
Line monitors, like Zibran Vastani here at the FSU game, aren’t just merely here to be K-Ville police and wake-up alarms. They also, well, monitor the lines, managing the walk-up crowds for every home game. The application process is not unlike tenting itself, hyper-competitive with a small number of spots to fill (around 30) — and there’s even a test. Prior tenting experience is required, and all applicants must be prepared to have a discussion worthy of the Duke Divinity School: “Why does K-Ville matter?”
So, why is all this so complicated? The official answer is that Duke University has 6,800 undergraduate students and Cameron Indoor, opened in 1940, has a 1,200-seat student section. The unofficial answer? “It’s fun!” explains Cam Polo. “And yes, I know what people say, only Duke students would take a test to watch basketball and then come up with a camping process that you have to live to truly understand. What can I say? We are the stereotype. I love it.”
Haircuts and selfies. Singalongs and study groups. There has always been a sense of community among K-Ville residents, but that was especially true this season. Most of this year’s senior class had their first UNC tenting experience in 2020, breaking camp on March 5, days before the pandemic lockdown. Says Camden Nelson: “We were going to have a bond regardless, because we all love Duke, but we’ve had this shared experience of COVID. The last time we’d all been here was the week before the world got turned upside down.”
Those with FSU tickets but not a spot on the lawn looked into Krzyzewskiville with admitted tent envy but didn’t let that deflate their excitement. See: these wall climbing/chant leading efforts of Jake Jeffries. The underclassmen have already circled next year’s UNC game. But in odd-numbered years that game takes place in early February. “That’s super intense,” explains Polo. “You take all you’ve seen this year and cram that into half the time, right out of winter break and into the tents.”
Second only to sleep, the greatest challenge for K-Ville residents is finding food. Group text chains end up becoming a de facto Door Dash, as those who are holding down the tent for the team place their orders at dining halls, Durham eateries and a flotilla of food trucks, while relying on tentmates to do the delivering. The staple is pizza because this is still college, after all. This year, there was a Mike’s pie to pay homage to Krzyzewski’s inaugural delivery in ’86. There was also a steady stream of Coach K-themed swag rolling in, from T-shirts to coffee mugs.
Every team works in a rotation, a process that can get a little complicated when you consider the typical college student’s schedule, let alone so many seniors in the process of applying to law and med schools. Plus, the omicron variant threw another obstacle in the works, with positive tests popping up throughout January. In the end, most tenters averaged about a dozen of the 32 nights under the cold winter skies.
The final personal check or “P-check” took place late on the night of Feb. 25, one week before tipoff of Coach K’s final game at Cameron. This time, every member of every team had to be there to check in with the line monitors. That was not a problem. “I know people think we are crazy, and we are,” says Sam Freder. “No one should be surprised. It’s right there in the name. The Cameron Crazies.”