Tag Archives: dukeathletics

A Fiery Duke Tradition

Tomorrow night, the famed basketball rivals meet again. Fans in North Carolina and across the country will don their Duke or Carolina blue and gather to watch the game. And Duke’s Cameron Crazies will go crazy, carrying on the tradition of post-game celebrations and bonfires.

Bonfire after NCAA National Semifinal Men's Basketball Game, April 2-3, 1994. From the University Photography Visual Materials Collection.
Bonfire after NCAA National Semifinal Men’s Basketball Game, April 2-3, 1994. From the University Photography Visual Materials Collection.

Although Duke students were lighting bonfires to celebrate the annual Duke-UNC football game decades ago, the tradition of marking major basketball games with a blaze is of a newer vintage. The newly-processed Duke University Police Department Records provide insight into this period of history.

According to the records, Duke’s bonfire and bench-burning tradition began in 1986, when there was a large screen set up on the quad for students to watch the NCAA final game between Duke and Louisville. Duke lost, and a few angry spectators reacted with assaults and vandalism. The Police Department was unprepared for such a result, but learned from the experience. During the 1990 tournament, the Police Department opted for a more controlled option of a large screen in Cameron for the Duke vs. UNLV game, with a Duke ID card required to enter. They also sponsored a bonfire in the Card Gym parking lot—with no idea this would set the precedent for a beloved tradition—but few students braved the bad weather.

1991 was an explosive and fiery year: after the watching the game between Duke vs. UNC on screen in Cameron Stadium, students spontaneously set up a mudslide and multiple bonfires. Planned fires for subsequent games burned too big and were too crowded. Duke Police had prepared with stadium evacuation plans and ambulances on standby, but were unprepared for the intensity of student energy—often directed harmlessly, but occasionally leading to violence.

Following the Duke-UNC game and some student injuries, Director of Public Safety Paul Dumas worried for students’ safety during the post-game celebrations. The Police Department organized a special committee to establish policies regulating the bonfires, but as many a Chronicle editorial pointed out, these well-intentioned regulations were difficult or impossible to enforce. For example, a March 25, 1991 editorial noted, “Parts of the policy are ridiculous. Why would a living group ever ‘contribute its bench willingly’ to the fire, as the policy suggests? In reality, the first partiers who get to the quad determine which bench gets sacrificed.”

1992 was even more out of control: many games were followed by unauthorized fires on various quads around campus, as well as some break-ins and emergency room visits. In 1994, the Police Department decided not to support any bonfires despite numerous student petitions, and began citing students for starting unpermitted fires. Yet the momentum was building; Duke was now expected to make it to the national championships each year, and, with memories of bonfires and bench-burnings from previous years, students wanted to celebrate in their own way.

Front page of the Chronicle, March  4, 1998.
Front page of the Chronicle, March 4, 1998.

Over the next few years, students insisted on commemorating games with bench burnings, and student-administration tensions increased. During the 1998 season, twenty-five students were arrested for disorderly conduct and starting unauthorized fires, while student editorials accused police of excessive force when responding to unauthorized fires. That year, the administration refused to allow the traditional bonfires and planned giant foam parties instead to celebrate major victories–unsurprisingly, most students were not enthused. In a February 5, 1998 Chronicle article titled “Students reject foam, beg for fire,” freshmen expressed disappointment about missing out on an established tradition and upperclassmen also rejected the plan: “the administration’s heart is in the right place, but foam is kind of a moronic idea.”

Three days after the Duke-UNC game, on March 3, 1998 students burned many benches despite regulations, strategically organizing a decoy to draw police attention away from the real fire. A quote from a Chronicle article following the incident states eloquently: “They took away our alcohol, and we stood by and watched. Then they took away our housing, and we stood by and watched. Then they tried to take away our bonfires, and we went to war.” It was a clever display of student unity to fight back against the administration’s perceived encroachment on their rights, and it worked: the administration sanctioned bonfires and bench burning as long as it adhered to city fire codes.

Letter to the editor from Coach K. From the Chronicle, March 21, 1991.
Letter to the editor from Coach K. From the Chronicle, March 21, 1991.

Duke Police adapted from year to year and recognized a trend of increasingly intense—and, for a few people, dangerous—parties. They tried to engage in public awareness campaigns by requesting support from the University President, Vice Presidents, student government, and Coach K, to encourage safe behavior. The department also began partnering with the Durham Police Department and the highway patrol to enlist enough officers. Yet there was only so much they could do to prevent injury or crime. And, while the police records focus on the number of incidents of injuries or assaults, most students had a good time celebrating their basketball team. It’s an interesting lesson on perspective: depending on your vantage point, you might see the bonfires of the 1990s as riots or as celebrations. Either way, the seeds of a tradition were planted. So whether or not you gather around a bonfire on February 18, enjoy a safe and exciting game!

Post contributed by Jamie Burns, Isobel Craven Drill Intern, Duke University Archives.

Playing Around

For several months now, I have been working my way through several thousand acetate negatives transferred to the University Archives from the Sports Information Office.

Dinkey and Jap reenact William Tell.
Dinkey and Jap reenact William Tell.

Several weeks ago, I wrote about finding negatives of women students playing baseball, which was an unexpected, yet welcomed, find. Today I came across another unexpected image, seen above. Described as “football miscellany,” it features football players, Leonard “Dinkey” Darnell and Jasper “Jap” Davis, in an iconic archery pose, dated July 1939. I wish I knew the story behind this image. Was it from a physical education class on archery? The Women’s Athletic Association had an archery season. Maybe the men joined them one afternoon for a bit of fun? I hope you enjoy the image as much as I do.

Post contributed by Kim Sims, Technical Services Archivist for University Archives.

Postcard from New Orleans

This past week, many of us from the Rubenstein—including the entire staff of the Duke University Archives—has been in New Orleans for the annual conference of the Society of American Archivists.

When we haven’t been attending presentations on the latest and greatest in our profession or meeting our fellow archivists, we’ve been exploring this awesome city. A few evenings ago, we stumbled upon a familiar place.


The venerable Antoine’s has stood in New Orleans’s French Quarter since 1840. And, of course, archivists have a soft spot for old things!

Sign for Antoine's Restaurant

The restaurant is familiar to those of us in the University Archives because of Eddie Cameron—specifically, a scrapbook of photos, clippings, and ephemera from the Duke football team’s trip to play in the 1945 Sugar Bowl. Among the pre-game celebrations was a dinner at Antoine’s with the team’s University of Alabama opponents.

Dinner at Antoine's, 1944

We love this photo of Eddie Cameron and Alabama head coach Frank Thomas mixing up some Café Brûlot Diabolique. Thankfully, the game wasn’t the following day! (Duke won, 29-26, incidentally.)

Eddie Cameron and Frank Thomas at Antoine's, 1944

Most of us will be leaving today, to return to our normal Durham lives of collecting, processing, cataloging, answering questions, teaching, and, well, helping to make the Rubenstein the great place that it is. But we’ll be back here soon, we hope! Thank you, New Orleans, and thanks, Antoine’s, for reminding us of a fun evening in Duke’s history!

A Woman’s Place is on Home, First, Second, and Third

The title of this blog post comes from one of the taglines for the 1992 film A League of Their Own, a fictionalized account of the formation of the All-American Girls Professional Baseball League.

I’m currently working to inventory approximately 28,000 acetate negatives of Duke athletics from circa 1928-1982 and recently came across a few images of women playing baseball from as early as 1934 to as late as 1941.

Baseball, Women's Athletic Association, 1941
Baseball, Women’s Athletic Association, 1941

In the decades before Title IX, Duke women participated in sports activities organized by the Women’s Athletic Association.  The W.A.A. formed in 1929 as an “outlet for the athletic urge than the physical education classes were able to offer” and to provide a “program of sports activity for women, similar to that afforded to the men by the intramural athletic program.”   The W.A.A.’s purpose was to “stimulate interest in athletics, to provide a chance for those interested in sports to develop more skill, and to give the women opportunities for fellowship and recreation.”

Baseball, Women's Athletic Association, May 6, 1939
Baseball, Women’s Athletic Association, May 6, 1939

In addition to baseball (not softball), women competed in tennis, golf, track & field, equestrian events, field hockey, soccer, fencing, swimming, basketball, and archery. The W.A.A. also sponsored several events and activities, including dances, weekend parties, hikes, and open houses in the gym.  It also used a point system to determine which 10 seniors received a blue “D.”  The 7 seniors who accrued the highest number of points received white sweaters with the blue “D” attached.

Post contributed by Kim Sims, Technical Services Archivist for the Duke University Archives.

What’s that Ringing in Perkins Library?

Shortly after Duke’s football win over the University of North Carolina on October 20th, the Duke University Libraries’ Communications and Development Departments and the Duke University Archives had an idea: why not bring the Victory Bell to Perkins Library? The University Archives has tons of historical material about Duke’s football team and the Victory Bell—including the bell’s original clapper, “liberated” from a UNC gymnasium in 1964—and, well, how much fun would it be to ring a bell in a quiet library?

After a few phone calls to our friends in Duke Athletics, the Victory Bell’s cart rolled over to Perkins Library this past Friday morning. Here are a few pictures from what proved to be a very fun—and occasionally very noisy—day. And, no, even though we’re librarians, we didn’t shush any of our bell ringers!

The Victory Bell arrives at Perkins Library!
The Victory Bell arrives at Perkins Library!
An excited student reacts after ringing the Victory Bell.
An excited student reacts after ringing the Victory Bell.
Two more students get ready to ring the Victory Bell.
Two more students get ready to ring the Victory Bell.
Coach David Cutcliffe and Provost Peter Lange share a turn.
Coach David Cutcliffe and Provost Peter Lange share a turn. Note some remaining blue spray paint on the inside of the bell.
President Brodhead rings the Victory Bell.
President Brodhead rings the Victory Bell.

So what do you think, Coach Cutcliffe? Shall we do this again next year?

Check out more photos of the bell’s visit on Flickr. You’ll also find more photos at Duke Today’s story about the bell’s visit.

Read more about the Victory Bell’s history here and here.