Duke

The story behind a surprise: How students thanked teacher with tickets to a Duke basketball game

Teacher overwhelmed when students surprise him with Duke basketball tickets

Bill Slayton, an English teacher at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC, reacts after his students game him tickets to the Duke vs. Florida State game. Slayton, a former Cameron Crazy at Duke has not been to a game in 15 years.
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Bill Slayton, an English teacher at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, SC, reacts after his students game him tickets to the Duke vs. Florida State game. Slayton, a former Cameron Crazy at Duke has not been to a game in 15 years.

It was the last day before exams earlier this month and Bill Slayton, an English teacher at a Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, S.C., was handed a gift by his students.

When he opened it, there was a pause. Inside was a card with a note thanking him for all that he had done for them and something else. There would be tickets waiting for him in Durham to Duke’s basketball game against Florida State on Dec. 30.

“I wasn’t processing it, because it didn’t make any sense to me,” Slayton recalled in a telephone interview. “In my mind, I couldn’t understand it at first. Then it struck me what they had done without me knowing.”

Slayton put the note down on his desk, and covered his face with his hands.

He said, holding back tears, that he hadn’t been to a Duke game in about 15 years. He earned both his master’s degree and Ph.D. from Duke and loved to attend games when he was a student but just hadn’t had a chance to secure a ticket or make it to Durham from Charleston since he left to start his teaching career there.

One of Slayton’s students, Robert Grubbs, posted a video of the moment on Instagram, and it quickly went viral. Sites like Bleacher Report and ESPN picked it up.

Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer caught wind of the video, too. He asked people to help get him in touch with the teacher.

Since then, Washington Duke Inn has called him, and said it had a room for him and one other person on the night of the game. Slayton is taking his son. And Scheyer will give Slayton a tour of Duke’s practice facility when he comes to Durham for the game.

Change of allegiance

Slayton, 65, attended Duke as a graduate student in the 1970s and returned a decade later to get his Ph.D. At Duke basketball games he’d sit with the Cameron Crazies.

Slayton said he used to be a Maryland fan because he grew up in College Park, Md.

But he changed his allegiance when he experienced the passion Duke fans had for their program. As a doctorate student, tickets were hard to come by.

One day, he and a friend decided to look for another way to get into a game.

So he and the friend dressed in gray work shirts, red cap and jeans. They found a dolly, and loaded it with empty boxes, waited for a door to open and walked in.

The pair waited for the Cameron Crazies to enter and joined the fans, cheering Duke on to victory.

Finding the tickets

Nelson Werber, one of Slayton’s students, said the class searched online for tickets, but they cost upward of $300. So they recruited more students to help pay for the tickets.

He said 12 students chipped in.

“We knew in order to get tickets, we’d have to chip in a decent amount, but we thought it was worth it,” Werber, a 12th grade student at Porter-Gaud, said. “Dr. Slayton has helped guide us through high school as our adviser, and we see him as a friend who we can rely on.”

Grubbs, who posted the video, said the same of his teacher.

“He has done so much for us, that we wanted to give him an unforgettable time at Cameron (Indoor Stadium),” Grubbs, a 12th grade student, said. “The viral video really helped us make the trip for him even better. If there is one thing that sticks out about Dr. Slayton is his love for Duke basketball, so ultimately we are all just glad he could go see a game.”

Slayton never suspected his students were getting him tickets. They sent him an email asking if he was available on Dec. 30 to attend a Duke basketball watch party.

They later told him that the venue would be changed, and they said they had a present for him. Slayton thought it was cookies, but it was better than cookies.

With the students preparing for exams and waiting for college acceptance letters, Slayton couldn’t believe it.

“The idea they would be thinking about me at all, much less something so generous, it all struck me at once,” Slayton said.

Jonathan M. Alexander: 919-829-4822, @jonmalexander

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