Greg Esses still had the sleeping bag, the one he used 30 years ago when he spent two nights outside of Cameron Indoor Stadium before Duke played against North Carolina.
Not long ago, Esses gave that sleeping bag to his son.
Cameron Esses, a Duke freshman who shares his name with the building where Duke plays its home games, needed it for his first winter in Krzyzewskiville, the camp his father helped found in 1986. The sleeping bag, the younger Esses reported to his father, is the warmest in his 12-person tent.
“I was like, ‘Your old man knows what he’s doing,” the elder Greg Esses, a retired Air Force engineer, said during a phone interview earlier this week.
It was a Thursday, a few days before No. 1 Duke’s game against UNC on March 2, 1986, Esses said, when “a ton of people showed up and started camping out” for seats to the game. He was among them.
Somebody scrawled a note on a piece of wood near the line of tents: “Don’t even think about cutting this line. We’ve been here since Thursday. We’ll kill you.”
There was another sign not far away – small and simple, the words written in big capital letters:
And so it began. Krzyzewskiville – one word now, no hyphen – turns 30 this weekend with the latest another Duke-UNC game at Cameron Indoor Stadium. Back then it was small-time, named after a young Duke coach Mike Krzyzewski, then in his sixth season.
Now Krzyzewskiville is synonymous with Duke basketball – a living, breathing community that includes 100 tents, more than 1,000 students and about 30 line monitors who control the chaos.
“Seeing how it’s all evolved and seeing what it is now – it is just a huge thing,” said Wendy Burr, a senior who is one of Krzyzewskiville’s two head line monitors. Burr grew up attending Duke games with her parents, both alums, and so she has seen Krzyzewskiville evolve over the years.
Before its creation 30 years ago, Duke students had camped outside Cameron. They had spent a night outside here or there. The UNC game that year, though, represents the true beginning of Krzyzewskiville.
What it was then was “nothing like what they do today,” Esses, who lives in Santa Rosa Beach, Fla., said. Indeed, Krzyzewskiville has passed through various life stages and into adulthood.
It’s all grown up now: a nice, official-looking sign out front; a designated area, with physical boundaries, for all the villagers and tents; a 35-page manual of policies and rules that outlines everything from grace periods to tent checks to where to use the bathroom.
Seeing how it’s all evolved and seeing what it is now – it is just a huge thing.
Duke senior Wendy Burr
The Krzyzewskiville of today doesn’t resemble what it was when it began. It grew, quickly, and soon students weren’t camping out a couple of days before the UNC game but instead a couple of weeks before it instead. And that turned into four weeks, and then five, and with the increased time came increased regulation.
No longer was a crude and funny sign – “don’t even think about cutting this line … we’ll kill you” – good enough. Though the sentiment behind those words still rings true.
“I think that would be the reaction at this point if someone cut us in line,” Jake Wirfel, a junior who is majoring in mechanical engineering, said on Thursday.
He and 11 others – Krzyzewskiville inhabitants can camp in groups as large as 12 – set up their tent on Jan. 17, 48 days before Duke’s game against UNC. That was the earliest anyone could set up camp.
Last year Wirfel’s group was in tent No. 2, which meant they were among the first people inside Cameron on the night of the UNC game. It was good but not good enough. So last April they began planning to be first in line.
“We named our group chat ‘Tent One or Die,’” said Haley Amster, a sophomore philosophy major who is in Wirfel’s group. “So we were pretty set on being tent one.”
It’s not as simple as merely showing up first. Line order is largely determined by a point system that rewards attendance at other Duke sporting events. A Duke basketball trivia test also plays a role.
Wirfel and his group members haven’t spent all 40-plus nights in their tent. Camping at Krzyzewskiville is divided into three periods: Black Tenting, Blue Tenting and White Tenting.
In Black Tenting, 10 members of a 12-person group are required to spend the night in tent. Then the requirement is six people and then, a couple weeks before the game, two people in each group must spend the night outdoors.
Throughout, at least one person is required to be with the tent at all times – grace periods excluded.
“The average person did 23 nights in the tent and a total of 73 day hours,” said Quinn Hosler, a senior in Wirfel’s group who organizes the tent schedule. “I think the max person did 26 and the minimum was at 19 nights.”
It’s a lot more than the two nights Esses spent in a tent 30 years ago. He sometimes bemoans what Krzyzewskiville has become. It used to be more organic.
“The bureaucracy now is just kind of crazy for all of it,” he said. “It takes the fun out of it a little bit.”
In the days before a game against UNC, the atmosphere in Krzyzewskiville is always festive, energetic, alive. It’s not always that way in the weeks before that, though. Esses, one of the founding members of Krzyzewskiville, and Burr, the head line monitor, acknowledge a culture change at Duke over the years.
The bureaucracy now is just kind of crazy for all of it. It takes the fun out of it a little bit.
Duke alum Greg Esses
“Just with the academic pressures that have changed, I think Duke has become a much more academic school,” Burr said. “Not that it wasn’t before. And I think you can kind of see that, and parallel to basketball (interest has) dropped off a little bit.”
The environment won’t be in question on Saturday night, though. The atmosphere in and around Cameron Indoor Stadium will be electric in the hours before the game, as it always is when UNC visits, and the body-painting will commence two or three or four hours before tip-off.
For those who endured Krzyzewskiville, the game will represent an end point of weeks of camping. Six weeks, in the case of Wirfel and his group. Their lives to some extent have revolved around Krzyzewskiville.
In Wirfel’s tent, they passed time with studying or Netflix or naps. Other groups stayed up late singing. The basketball hoop at the front of Krzyzewskiville provides a place for pick-up games.
In its early years Krzyzewskiville was rustic. It is still, in some ways, but not like it was when Esses showed up two days before that 1986 UNC game and ran an extension cord to his tent from a window on the second floor of Cameron Indoor Stadium.
“I don’t want to come off as, ‘Oh we were so much better in the olden days,’” Esses said.
Yet in some ways he feels that way. There was less structure, maybe some more fun but far fewer nights outdoors.
“It’s crazy,” Cameron Esses, experiencing Krzyzewskiville for the first time, said of the differences between now and 30 years ago. “I’m having to do more than he ever had to do.”
For parts of the past five weeks, the younger Esses has been in tent No. 14, often in that same warm sleeping bag his father used in the same location three decades ago. The whole experience is more formalized now.
At its core, though, Krzyzewskiville remains what it was before it even had a name.