SPOKANE, Wash. -- Tenting is one of the most time-honored traditions at Gonzaga University.
Students pitch a tent in the middle of campus to secure their seat at some of the most highly-anticipated men's home basketball games, but it is not easy. In fact, it's usually cold outside and it can take time away from classes and tests.
A single tweet from the GU Kennel Club sends students racing from all corners of the campus to one spot. They run for a number that will set the tone for the next several days. It is what dictates their place in line at Herak Lawn, home of GU Tent City.
Dylan Ruesch and his friends are juniors. They have tented at almost every game possible since they were freshmen.
“You've just gotta find a way to stay warm,” Ruesch said. “It's all for the love of the game, you know?”
This time, they ended up in a good spot: lucky number 7. In their tent is where they will stay, all night long, even as the temperatures dip below freezing.
“I was abroad last spring, so I didn't get to do this last semester. And so, as funny as it is, I really missed being out in the rain,” He said. “I go home and people ask, 'How is your semester?' I don't even tell my parents how my classes are going. I tell them, 'Oh, I waited 27 hours to go to a basketball game.'”
They said they are willing to put in the work to make it to the coveted front row of the student section because come game time, they will be the ones on national TV, representing Zags everywhere.
“They kind of let people go one number at a time, but if you run faster than the tent ahead of you, you're going to get the spot. That's the best thing you can do,” said student Nate Randall.
So is this worth it?
“At the beginning, when I started my freshman year, everyone said you're going to have your Zag moment. My Zag moment is every single Tent City I've ever had,” Randall said.
It is why they say, after this game is over, they and 500 to 600 other students will savor the moment and then do it all over again.
“My family is from here, so it's a huge tradition, the whole Zag basketball culture. So, I'm very excited to be a part of it,” said one student.
“Oh yeah, I've been one of the last tents. And it still is. You get to be part of the process, and that's what is so much fun,” Jonathan said.
But not everyone enjoys the tenting tradition.
“I feel like it's sort of, people think it's a rare thing that people don't like tenting, but I think it's actually a majority of Gonzaga students don't actually like it,” Emily said.
She must just be some kind of basketball hating alien. One person in a million?
“Yeah, the whole process is kind of frustrating, because we have to wait in line for an entire day just to get your card activated. And then on days that there's not tenting, you have to wait in line all day just to get a good seat,” student Christina explained.
“I mean, you spend hours standing in line to actually get your card activated for the tickets. And then you spend hours, if not days, sitting outside when you pay money to live somewhere,” Rachel said. “It seems like something a lot of people have convinced themselves is fun.”
Turns out there are plenty of students who actually just wish they could get a ticket without all the hoops.
“It's so exciting when you first come here and you always hear about Tent City, and it sounds like so much fun. But then, after you do it a few times, it's like, 'Ok, I'm done,'” Katy said.
Tenting at GU was not always such a production. It has evolved year after year for more than a decade. Some students, as soon as the previous game two days before, as soon as the doors closed and the game started, they were in the front of the line for the next game. Word got around campus and people started lining up and bringing tents. It officially began in 2006.
Gonzaga fell in line with a handful of other major basketball programs like the Paint Crew at Purdue and the famed K-Vill at Duke, even as most other universities like Georgetown, Seton Hall and Villanova have opted for a lottery system. Villanova officials said they may pull a few tickets for promotions or ticket runs, but their goal is to leverage interest in basketball to get more attendance at other sporting events.
“It's a testament to the entire university. A lot of different hands in play, but mostly it's our students who really want to do this because they see value in it,” Associate Director of the Center for Student Involvement Joey Sammut said. “I think it's an event that we want to make sure is safe, first and foremost. And then, that it really does what it's supposed to do, which is keep a line.”
What about all those students who do not actually want to stand in line? University leaders said there is a place for them too.
"Some of our students really want to tent, especially for a lot of our first year students. This is exciting to come here and get to do this. And I think some other students realize that they still have a really good seat, maybe halfway back, but they can still really enjoy the game, and maybe choose not to tent if they don't want to," Saammut explained.
Which means there is room for everyone to have their own Gonzaga moment.