When some of Bill Slayton’s students asked if he wanted to join them to watch Duke’s basketball game against fellow ACC contender Florida State later this month, the longtime Blue Devils fan quickly accepted the invitation.
Little did Slayton know the watch party was merely a ruse to ensure he didn’t make other plans on Dec. 30.
For the past three years, Slayton has served as a mentor and academic adviser to the 12 students in his homeroom class at Porter-Gaud School in Charleston, S.C. The longtime English teacher has made such an impact in their lives that the students decided to do something special for him as part of their class-wide Secret Santa gift exchange.
As some of the students threw around ideas for what to buy Slayton over dinner a few weeks ago, senior Alex Hannegan kept thinking back to all the early-morning conversations he and his friends had about Duke basketball with Slayton. The former Duke graduate student has lived and died with the Blue Devils for more than three decades, though he has not been to a game at Cameron Indoor Stadium in 15 years.
“I came up with the idea to get him tickets to a Duke game, but at that point I didn’t think it would actually happen,” Hannegan told Yahoo Sports. “Tickets at Cameron are so expensive and I wasn’t sure how much money everyone wanted to spend.”
Much to Hannegan’s surprise, his homeroom classmates quickly got on board with the idea. They pooled together enough money to buy two tickets to the Duke-Florida State game at $300 apiece, one for Slayton and one for his son.
“We’ve had Dr. Slayton for three years as an adviser now and we see him every day,” Hannegan said. “We knew he would be really excited because he loves Duke basketball, so we thought it would be worth the money. He truly cares about his advisees. He loves us and we love him too.”
When Slayton’s homeroom students arrived Thursday morning for the last day of classes before fall semester exams, he asked one of them if they knew yet where the watch party would be. The student smiled and told him it would be a little farther away than first anticipated.
“I thought to myself, ‘That doesn’t sound good,'” Slayton told Yahoo Sports. “I’m not driving out of town to watch a game on television.'”
It was then that Slayton’s students handed him his Christmas present, a red stocking that held a thank you letter, two tickets to the Duke-Florida State game and a Blue Devils necktie. Slayton was so moved by the heartfelt gift it initially left him speechless.
— Nelson Werber (@NelsonWerber) December 14, 2017
“I was surprised and moved by it,” Slayton said. “This was the day before exams. A bunch of them were hearing from colleges. They had plenty of other things to be worried about at that moment, so it shocked me that they were thinking about me. When I was their age, I would not have been thinking about my teacher like that.”
Slayton first began attending Duke basketball games in the late 1970s as a graduate student at the university. For awhile, he had season tickets. Once he even posed as a vendor and snuck through a back entrance to get into a game.
Part of the reason Slayton was so emotional opening his gift was because he thought he would never attend another Duke home game. Durham is a four-hour drive from Charleston, and tickets were too expensive for him to justify such an extravagant purchase.
One of Hannegan’s classmates took video of Slayton’s reaction opening his gift. That minute-long clip has since spread quickly on social media, catching the attention of local and national media and even Duke assistant coach Jon Scheyer.
Can someone help connect me to this teacher? Awesome gift from students and an even better reaction! https://t.co/a0YH4C2VYx
— Jon Scheyer (@JonScheyer) December 16, 2017
News coverage of the class’ gesture has come as a total surprise to Hannegan and his friends.
Said Hannegan, “I didn’t expect it to blow up like this. We were just trying to make Dr. Slayton happy.”
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