Winston-Salem State University‘s football game next Saturday is still on the books, but the circumstances under which fans can attend is up in the air. Get the full story from John Dell at Journal Now below.

Winston-Salem State football fans will be spread out for the home games this season because of COVID-19.(Journal File Photo)

Winston-Salem State’s first home football game, which is scheduled for Sept. 25 against Elizabeth City State, will have restrictions for those in attendance.

The restrictions, however, are not known yet.

N.C. A&T has decided that fans will have to prove they’ve been vaccinated or have proof of a recent negative COVID-19 test to get into games, WSSU could have those restrictions at the 13,500-seat Bowman Gray Stadium.

Right now all Etienne Thomas, who is WSSU’s athletics director, could say is that fans will be asked to wear masks.

“We will ask you to wear masks,” Thomas said. “And we’re spreading people out, so like in our Red Seats we will have fans spread out so there are at least two seats between every two people.”

Thomas said there will be more protocols in place, but “they are still being determined.”

Thomas said that while she would prefer a full stadium, normal WSSU attendance will allow fans to distance.

“We can spread people out, and that’s what we will do,” Thomas said. 

Most of the 900 or so WSSU fans at Catawba’s Shuford Stadium on Saturday wore masks throughout the game. Fans at the WSSU-N.C. Central game Saturday in Durham will be required to wear masks since it is an on-campus stadium.

The stadium is owned by the city of Winston-Salem, and Ben Rowe, an assistant city manager, said any changes to the attendance policy for the Rams’ three home football games would be decided in a joint effort.

“We have not discussed this option with university officials,” Rowe wrote in an email about proof of vaccination. “We would work together on that kind of decision.”

The homecoming game, on Oct. 23 against Livingstone, traditionally has been one of the most heavily attended games in recent years.

Over the last five seasons WSSU has averaged about 5,000 fans for non-homecoming games. At homecoming games, however, the stadium is usually full even if the fans aren’t in their seats but walking around the spacious concourse or at tailgate parties outside the stadium.

“We still have some time to figure all of that out with our homecoming game more than a month away,” Thomas said.

A&T has already scaled down homecoming festivities to combat the ongoing COVID-19 issues and the rising cases of the delta variant.

Winston-Salem State plays N.C. Central on Oct. 16, 1999. WSSU’s #12 is Tory Woodbury.Christine Rucker, Journal file photo

“We are looking at what that would take for us because it’s a different dynamic than A&T’s homecoming, and it’s a different footprint,” Thomas said. “So from the logistics, but also the personnel that we have, we have to see what we are capable of changing.”

Thomas will keep Chancellor Elwood Robinson and top officials informed about possible changes to homecoming in the next couple of weeks.

“I’ll provide them with some logistics and what that plan could look like if we have to go that route,” Thomas said, “and the virus will really speak to us at that point.”

As for the Sept. 25 game at Bowman Gray Stadium, the Rams will celebrate Community Day with two ceremonies to recognize the naming of the playing surface after Bill Hayes, a legendary coach and athletics director at WSSU. Bill Hayes Field will be unveiled in a pregame ceremony for the 1:30 p.m. game as well as a halftime ceremony.

“It’s great to have that city partnership with the city council and with the help of councilmember (Annette Scippio) and Donald Evans (a former WSSU star) for all of this to happen,” Thomas said, “and it’s just a great way to celebrate Coach Hayes.”

Not only did Hayes’ former players at WSSU and N.C. A&T help with making the naming of the field a reality there’s also a statue that is in the works. Others who helped work behind the scenes are Winston-Salem State grades Reginald and Aimee McCaskill, who are prominent alums who live in Winston-Salem.

“We’re really looking forward to our first home game in a long time,” Thomas said