When the Gonzaga men’s basketball team plays its most high-profile games in The Kennel, students must earn their spot inside by braving a day outside in the severe Spokane winter.
This process, which has become a staple of GU student life, is known as Tent City.
As the men’s basketball team has become a consistent national power, fan interest in the team has exploded. Due to heightened demand to see the Zags play, students must put in the time to get a prime spot in the McCarthey Athletic Center.
For many games, this includes going to ticket distributions on Sunday nights and waiting outside the arena on game days to get the best seats when the doors open 90 minutes before tipoff.
When the Zag men welcome teams such as Saint Mary’s, BYU and high-profile nonconference opponents, students must spend a day in Tent City to secure the best seats, although not much sitting is done for the game.
Tent City is organized primarily by the Gonzaga Kennel Club. It turns one of GU’s lawns into a sea of tents, starting the afternoon of the day before the teams biggest showdowns.
While the actual tenting occurs for one day, students must start preparing days before the tents are set up.
Once students have activated their tickets for the game at a Sunday night distribution, which is not a given and requires its own system of waiting in line, students can gather up to six friends to tent with.
Each person will need a form because one of the biggest parts of tenting involves running, yes running, to try and get the top tent number, which in turn produces the best seats to the game.
Running for a tent number is probably the most stressful and intense part of the tenting process. Normally, at 12:15 p.m. on the Wednesday prior to the game, the Kennel Club uses its Twitter account to tweet out a campus location where students must run to secure a tent number. The first students to arrive at the location the Kennel Club has tweeted get the highest number, and so on.
This sounds like a relatively simple system, but in reality, it turns into a pretty chaotic scene. To help handle this disarray as well as possible, students in each tenting group usually position group members throughout campus so that at least one will be near the announced location.
About 10-15 minutes before the tweet is sent, GU’s campus comes alive with students anxiously refreshing their Twitter feeds.
When the Kennel Club reveals the location, the mad dash is on.
This is the most perilous part of the process as it involves running — err, sprinting — in a herd on concrete, slippery grass and, worst of all, snow/ice. Most of the time, you don’t even need to know the location and can just take off in the same direction as everyone else.
At the spot, the Kennel Club hands out numbers in a semi-orderly fashion.
The actual process of tenting is much more mellow but does require a number of different things to have a successful time.
The most important of these is of course, a tent, which means that someone in your group needs to have one or you can rent one from GU Outdoors. One also needs a sleeping bag, along with blankets and chairs if one desires maximum comfort.
At least one person in the group has to remain in the tent at all times. It is important to plan out shifts around classes so that time is equally distributed among group members.
Approximately 24 hours before the doors to McCarthey Athletic Center open for the game, students are required to set up their tents. This process can sometimes require digging snow out of your spot and setting up a tent with cold or gloved hands in Spokane’s winter conditions.
Once the tent up set up is complete, Tent City awakens. While it might not be the ideal place to chill (literally and figuratively) with friends; Tent City can be a fun and unique bonding experience where groups of friends conquer the unusual task of camping for 24 hours.
This presents challenges such as making sure phones stay charged in the cold, having limited Wi-Fi due to everyone in Tent City using it at once and trying to get homework done with no desk and poor lighting.
If one can overcome the challenges of being productive during the day, they can enjoy the best parts of Tent City at night.
During the evening and night, Tent City becomes a lively community with music playing (sometimes by a professional DJ) and people hanging out.
The community feel is arguably the greatest part of Tent City. While getting to be in the Kennel for the Zags’ most anticipated games of the year is the real reason people tent, going through the struggles of the process alongside hundreds of fellow Zags makes the experience one of pride and unity.
Showing off that you earned a marquee tent number or getting free food and other small giveaways makes true Zag fans happy to say, “I survived Tent City.”
While planning for and spending a Spokane winter night in a tent may seem crazy, doing so with many fellow students, building hype for the biggest games of the year is something all Zags should experience at least once or twice.
Trevor Bond is a staff writer.