After Duke center Matt Skura proposed to his girlfriend last year, they decided they wanted to get married at the Duke Chapel.
Little did they know that would entail a mini-Krzyzewskiville setup to reserve their preferred wedding date. With so many couples wanting to get married at such a prestigious venue and only about 14-15 spots available, the only way to truly ensure a date is to camp out, akin to the tent cities that students set up to get tickets to men's basketball games. First come, first served to get married at the showcase spot on campus, drawing tourists from around the country to visit every day.
No problem. Skura is an outdoorsy type. So he and fiancée, Emma Ellis, gathered camping gear to prepare -- a tent, air mattress, mini generator, chairs, a tarp, fans and coolers to start. Skura started the camp-out last Thursday morning. The couple was in luck.
He was the first in line.
Skura sat around for hours, waiting for more couples to arrive. When nobody did, he left his tent and went home. He returned in the evening and found several more tents set up. Those who arrive first are required to come up with a set of ground rules for all the other campers to follow. Skura and Ellis set up a basic framework:
Overnight camping required. Somebody had to be inside each tent from 9 p.m. until 6 a.m. through Wednesday, when the Chapel would begin to make wedding reservations for July 2016.
The tent order would remain the same unless somebody left their tent unattended overnight.
Daytime tenting was not required, but encouraged.
Skura ended up hanging out around his tent Thursday through Saturday, and slept in it all three nights. Ellis also camped out with him. The first two nights got a little hairy when severe rainstorms rolled through the area. Skura and Ellis stayed in their tents and managed to stay perfectly dry.
To help them out, Ellis’ sister, Grace, stayed overnight the next three nights while Skura returned to offseason work. Skura still spent time at the tents during the day. Ellis’ grandparents decided to hang out with them one day, too, just to see what it was all about.
“It was just a really cool experience,” Skura said in a phone interview Wednesday. “I’d definitely do it again.”
Nine couples ended up setting up tents. One tent ended up having a familiar face inside: former Duke football player Zach Greene, who flew in from Dallas with his fiancé.
Greene was a senior when Skura was a freshman, so they remembered each other. “I thought it was cool two Duke football players were out there camping.”
Skura and Emma Ellis also became friends with the other campers, including a Duke alum who came in from Nashville. Their shared experiences allowed them all to bond and swap stories, especially while they passed the time in the evenings.
During the daytime, the campers received their fair share of questions from onlookers, wondering why there were so many tents set up in front of the chapel.
“People walk by us and are either so fascinated by it all or they tell us their own sweet stories,” Emma Ellis said. “One couple walked by and said they had gotten married at the chapel and have been married 30 years. We have met some really interesting people who come and tour the campus.”
Teammate Lucas Patrick ended up visiting Skura while he camped out. Former Duke All-American Laken Tomlinson came by Tuesday night with his girlfriend. Otherwise, Skura’s teammates had no real idea what he was doing in a tent.
“I was telling the guys what it was like, and then Duke Chapel posted a picture on Facebook and they said, ‘Oh, so that’s why you’ve been camping out,” Skura said. “’Wow, that’s a little crazy.’”
When Wednesday morning rolled around, Skura was back doing his offseason workouts. But Emma and Grace Ellis were in the tent, waiting to be called in to reserve their date. Once they were called, Emma took her preferred date: July 9, 2016. That is the benefit of camping out early. One of Mike Krzyzewski's daughters didn't tent, and her No. 1 date was already taken when it was her turn to choose.
The camping out will begin all over again at the end of the month, for those who want to reserve a spot starting Aug. 1 for August 2016 weddings. It goes on like this every month, miniature K-villes geared for love and matrimony.