The Joel. It’s one of those arenas that is unremarkable, but very comfortable – a perfect place to see ACC basketball. While less renowned than some of its conference counterparts, a night at the Joel will prove to be a great night of college basketball, especially if the struggling Demon Deacons can keep the game close.
Named for Lawrence Joel, an Army medic who won the Medal of Honor after his service in the Vietnam War. The arena seats 14,665 comfortable for Wake Forest Demon Deacon men’s and women’s basketball games. The Coliseum is located across the street from Wake Forest’s BB&T Stadium, home of the football program.
Like much of the basketball played on Tobacco Road, you can expect to find fans who love the game of basketball and who are engaged throughout the contest. If you are in or near Winston-Salem on the night of a Wake Forest basketball game, then do yourself the favor of going to see a game.
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The food may not get you jazzed up, but there are some good items on this otherwise basic menu. First, let's get to the pricing of the typical items you would see at any sporting event. Those include hot dog ($4.50), soft pretzel ($4), Domino's 8-inch pizzas ($6), corn dog ($3.75), and cheeseburger ($6.25). You can also find somewhat interesting items like a turkey burger ($6.25), and Buffalo tenders with fries ($9). If you want to have the best item on the menu, then stop by one of the Red, Hot & Blue stands and try the BBQ sandwich ($6), BBQ tray ($7.50), or the Brunswick Stew.
Beverages include Pepsi products in two sizes ($4 or $5) or an iced tea ($4). Small drinks come without lids, and the large is a souvenir cup, so it's worth the extra dollar to get the larger size. If you need some dessert, there are several ice cream vendors and also banana pudding on hand ($3).
More than anything else, the seating at LJVC can be described as comfortable. All seats have better than average legroom, padded bottoms and chairbacks, as well as cupholders. This doesn't mean that the crowd is complacent though. Far from it. They are engaged in the action, helping to make the experience exciting for fans.
There are two levels of seating. The 200-level upper seats have the most legroom, but it is important that fans sit at least 8 rows up so they avoid the obstruction of the plexi-glass gate that holds patrons in the balcony level.
The scoreboard is fairly basic and perhaps outdated by today's ACC standards. There are adequate sized video screens that give thorough stats during breaks. The scoreboard is center-hung and displays live game action on the video screen along with the numbers of the players on the floor, plus their points and fouls.
Wake Forest does have two critical components that help to make college basketball really special. The first is a better than average pep band. The ensemble is smaller than I expected, but they are allowed to play during almost every break in the action. Additionally, if you're in the building about 30-40 minutes before tipoff, you may get to see the band march through the concourse on their way to their seats in section 101.
The second thing going for Wake Forest is an active and unique mascot. The Demon Deacon has been part of the Wake Forest athletic tradition since 1941, and is one of the most unique mascots in all of sports.
The Deacon Tower Grille is located on the 7th floor of BB&T Stadium, home of the Deacon's football team, but only for lunch during the week, and dinner on Wednesday-Friday. Their website recommends making reservations.
A better bet is to go downtown Winston-Salem and stop in at the excellent Foothills Brewing Company. It's an easy drive of about two miles from LJVMC They have as many as 17 locally-brewed beers on tap, and the food is good as well. I had a delicious Cuban sandwich during my visit, and pre-game diners will find plenty of happy hour specials from 4pm-6pm. Plus, parking meters in the area are only 25 cents per hour.
Another nearby option is the Meltdown, located on Deacon Blvd. They have gourmet grilled cheese sandwiches, along with pretty good soup. It's a perfect spot on a cold winter night.
Wake Forest fans will fill most of the lower bowl, but unfortunately for the home team, much of the upper seating remains empty. This presents an opportunity for visiting fans to go and see their team on the road. There are four ACC opponents who are within a two-hour drive of Winston-Salem (Virginia Tech, Duke, UNC, and NC State), and those teams (or any other) could easily invade LJMC and equalize the home court advantage.
The student section sits behind the mascot nearest the opponent bench. They consume about four sections, but are far from opposing. I actually had to ask if the students were on break because it's really hard to discern that collegiate energy that so many student sections exude. I realize that the Wake Forest program has been down in recent years, but a truly special student section would persevere and make themselves a factor. That said, when the game is on the line, Wake Forest fans can still kick it up a notch. During my visit, the Deacons fans were apathetic, but responded in the second half when the team picked things up. I guess you could call that fair-weather, or you go cite the potential that is within this fanbase.
Parking will cost you $7, and there is plenty of it surrounding the Joel. There are plenty of entrance and exit points into the lots so crowds can be dispersed pretty easily, and you won't have any trouble finding a spot and getting to the game on time.
Once inside, there is one concourse that connects the arena's upper and lower levels. It's not exactly spacious, but it is wide enough to accommodate the crowds. Restrooms are a little outdated by today's standards, but are reasonably large and clean. I didn't notice any back-ups for either gender during my visit.
Upper level seats range from $25-$35, and lower level seats will cost you $45 for most opponents. However, marquee games like those against Duke will range from $50-$75. While seeing a regional rivalry certainly adds to the overall return on investment, it's probably not enough to make it a good return on investment unless you're lucky enough to see a great game. If you're able to sit in sections 230-232 though for $25, and you find a spot at least eight rows up, then it is probably worth the money.
Concessions are reasonably priced, as is the parking. The fact is that this is an unremarkable venue, and it offers just an average overall experience.
There is a single Final Four banner hanging at the Joel. If you didn't know, you may guess that it is from the Tim Duncan era, but it is in fact from the 1962 season, when Billy Packer played guard for the Deacs. Nonetheless, it isn't every venue that you can find a Final Four banner, so that's worth an extra point.
One extra point for the level of play in the ACC, which has been arguably the best conference for basketball at the collegiate level. If you have season tickets for Wake Forest, it is likely that you will see the best amateur players in the game throughout the year.
One final extra point to the better than average pep band, and the crowd's response when they play the Wake Forest fight song, clapping along at an ascending speed and yelling "GO DEACS!"
When the Wake Forest basketball program rebounds, the experience at the Joel will likely get better. Don't get me wrong. This is a good place to see a basketball game, but it lacks that certain something to really make it special.
Long known as a basketball school for its affiliation as a member of the Big Four, Wake Forest's deep history started when the school was located in Wake Forest, North Carolina.
The team is now a far cry from a small gym outside of Raleigh. The Demon Deacons play their home games in Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum, just minutes from downtown Winston-Salem, and across the street from beautiful BB&T Field.
Although "the Joel" is in need of some renovations, it is still a great place to watch a basketball game. It has elements of a professional arena, but holds true to the small university feel that Wake has instilled in everything from the campus to athletics.
638 W 4th St
Winston-Salem, NC 27101
505 Deacon Blvd
Winston-Salem, NC 27105
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