O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium – North Carolina Central Eagles
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Around the Raleigh/Durham area, saying that college athletics are huge would be an understatement. With the Carolina Hurricanes as the lone pro team, most local sports fans find their identity in a college team. Outside of the big 3 (UNC, NC State, and Duke), there are several Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCU) around the area as well. Among them, NCCU is perhaps the most athletically relevant. The football team played its first season in 1922, but did not begin playing in their current stadium until 1975. O’Kelly-Riddick is a stadium that won’t impress you with its looks, but makes up for it with its unique food and friendly atmosphere.
When I arrived at the stadium, the food selection worried me. The school’s concession stand only offers Pepsi drinks, candy, and popcorn. I then turned around to find 3 food trucks and 2 tents all cooking food for the day’s game.
The options are incredibly widespread and include several unique options. Aside from traditional stadium food, you can also choose from fish, wings, cheesesteaks, chili, turkey legs, shrimp, and even gator. With so many different options, you are sure to find something you like. Many of the tents offer the above foods as entrees as part of baskets (usually around $10). For drinks, JC’s catering serves homemade lemonade, and the rest of the trucks serve bottled drinks.
O’Kelly Riddick is a stadium that is starting to show its age. Approaching its 40th year of operation, much of the metal looks old and the seating style is reminiscent of older stadiums. The seating is all metal benches. The bleachers are arranged in a horseshoe pattern, with the North end zone left open. All of the seats are general admission, with the exception of one small reserved section (and the student section). The reserved section is most of the prime seats; meaning 50 yard line, lower level. The concourse is tight and if you are walking from section to section, you should probably go around the outer concourse.
The home side bleachers are probably the best option because they offer the best view of the field with the least interference from the sun. The sun sets behind the press box, making the home seats the best for hot days. The sun is a bit stronger on the visitor side which would be better for cold days.
When visiting any HBCU football game, the highlight of the game tends to be the band. NCCU is no exception. HBCU bands have the luxury of being allowed to play throughout the live action and it keeps the energy going. The drum line is always playing and that really adds an element not found in other college football games.
The PA announcer is exceptional and is very charismatic. Every third down, he encourages the Eagle fans to “get up on your feet!” He makes sure to keep everything light and is an overall great PA announcer.
NCCU has a great advantage when it comes to the neighborhood as it is just one mile away from downtown Durham. The city has done a great job in recent years of reviving its downtown. It now boasts several popular shops, restaurants, and hotels. One of my personal favorites is a local chain called Tobacco Road Sports Cafe. The Durham location is incredibly unique because it overlooks Durham Bulls Athletic Park. The restaurant’s patio sits on the right field wall and is almost part of the stadium. With the multiple tv’s and great food, it is a can’t miss for any sports fan.
The student section is great….well, the first 3 rows of it is. Student sections are an integral part of college sports and unfortunately, NCCU’s is not that loud. There are several students who really get into the game and show great effort in cheering. Above them though, most students remain seated and don’t yell that much.
Outside of the student section is where you will find one of the friendliest fan bases I have ever encountered. Everyone seems to know everyone and is happy to see each other. They know who sits where and if they will be in attendance that day. It really is a nice break from the rowdiness of most college football fans. Instead of yelling senselessly the entire game, they are content to chat with their old friends and make conversation throughout the game.
Getting to a game is pretty easy when you are just minutes from a major highway. From I-40, exit on to Durham Freeway/NC-147, then to exit 12A, and within minutes you are on the campus of NCCU. The only issue is parking. There is a deck very close to the field and is only $10 to park in. There are police and other traffic directors showing you how to get to the deck, but the narrow streets of campus are hard to navigate.
Once in the stadium, there are restrooms on either side. The restrooms are small, but functional and like the stadium, are showing their age.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets are $20 if bought in advance, and $25 at the gate. The very limited number of reserved seats are $30, but I wouldn’t suggest splurging. The seats are the same quality and the view is about the same if you sit a few sections over. The concessions are a real value as combos are only $10 and the quality of food is amazing.
The game I attended was organ donation day. The school allowed volunteers to ask fans if they were organ donors and if not, sign them up on the spot. I like that the school allows organizations like this to advertise at their games.
Eddie the Eagle is the mascot at the games. While I didn’t see him until the 2nd quarter, Eddie patrolled the crowd for most of the game.
Finally, I enjoyed the short videos that the Eagles made for 3rd downs. Every 3rd down, a video was played of a different player telling the fans to get up and cheer.
Sure, it’s not a major FBS stadium and yes, it looks a little old. If you can get past those objections, you can have a good time at O’Kelly Riddick Stadium. If you find your way to the Raleigh/Durham area on a fall Saturday, come by NCCU. Have some homemade food, sit back, and enjoy the great band and football that come together to make a great experience.
Food and Drink Recommendations
Tobacco Road Sports Cafe (map it!)
280 S Mangum St
Durham, NC 27701
Hampton Inn & Suites Durham North I-85
1542 N Gregson St
Durham, NC 27701