by Alex Shapanka
Though our university is one of the world’s premiere institutions, the word ‘Duke’ is more commonly synonymous with basketball than academia. This past year, however, our admissions office proudly reported that for the first time more students are mentioning DukeEngage than basketball in their applications. Since we go to school to learn, it’s brilliant that students are more excited about the prospect of doing something meaningful and giving back during their college experience than they are about attending a sporting event. But as we enter basketball season, I urge you not to underestimate the sport’s importance to our community and culture.
I’ve often heard students complain about tenting and the walk-up line. I too groaned when I woke up three times in the middle of a 30˚ night to make a tent check. During black tenting my freshman year, we weren’t even allowed a tent. For a week, the eight groups that braved the elements huddled all twelve of their members under tarps. Despite the grumbling nearly everyone I know that tented says they are happy they did. Three years later I’ve remained best friends with some of my tent-mates.
While four National Championships and 15 Final Four appearances make our basketball program worthy of public admiration, it’s the camaraderie that makes Duke Basketball laudable. Waiting in line for a few hours before games and lounging in tents at 2 am with friends affords us the rare opportunity to drop everything and just be present. There is no other point of the year where over 1,400 students put aside themselves to rally for the same cause – Duke Basketball.
Our basketball program provides a community both in and out of Cameron. Whether you’re jumping in the bleachers with your friends or sitting at bar hundreds of miles from Durham watching as Duke comes back from a 14-point deficit against Carolina at the half, you are a part of something bigger and feel as though you belong.
At Countdown to Craziness this year, Coach K asked everyone in attendance to hold out his or her hand in a fist. Just as our fingers are more powerful “together” so are we as a team and a community. I thought it sounded hokey. I still do, but Duke Football showed me the importance of togetherness. On October 20th as our team was down with a few seconds to go every student held out a fist together. Though it had no bearing on the game’s outcome, it was a powerful image that showed consequence of community.
Have you ever been called a Blue Devil? Our mascot is not limited to the athletes. By supporting out teams, we lose our identities and adopt the solitary mask of the Blue Devil. I remember watching the National Championship game in Cameron my freshman year. The quiet, the gasps, and the cheers all happened in unison, as if the crowd acted together as one entity. Silence fell over the building as Hayworth released his shot, and pandemonium stormed campus when it missed. Thousands of students flooded the main quad to celebrate Duke’s victory – our victory.
It’s essential that students care about their academics and want more out of their college years than basketball, but let’s not forget one of the few places where students come “together” to form a community, where we form a culture of passion and pride.