Photos by Aaron S. Terry, Stadium Journey
Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 4.29
Irwin Belk Stadium N Camden Rd
Wingate, NC 28174
Year Opened: 1998
Like many sports stadiums in the Carolinas, Irwin Belk Stadium is named after Irwin Belk, who donated large sums of money to many universities in the area – it is sometimes hard to keep track of which facility is which given the similar names, but in this case the stadium is home to the Wingate Bulldogs football team of the NCAA’s Division II. The modern venue has a capacity of 3,500 and includes a large grandstand (complete with press box) for home fans, with a smaller grandstand on the other side of the field for visitors. There is also a fieldhouse behind one end zone, with berm seating along a small hill behind the other end zone, which kids can be seen sliding down on flattened, and sometimes decorated, cardboard boxes.
Food & Beverage 4
Irwin Belk Stadium has all kinds of food options, enough to satisfy any fan. The main stands on the home side offer hot dogs, nachos, BBQ sandwiches, popcorn, chips, candy, and Chick-fil-A grilled chicken sandwiches, which I haven’t seen before; all the other Chick-fil-A stands at stadiums I have been to only have the breaded ones. The home stands also have bottled soda, bottled water, Gatorade, and energy drinks, but in addition to the main stands, there are pop-up stands which sell Italian ice, slushies, and beer from Southern Range, including a Bulldog-themed one named ‘Onedog’, which is a well-known hashtag/saying for the team (that word is even lettered on top of the player tunnel). The concessions are slightly on the high side for this level, but the selection is great. The Chick-fil-A sandwiches are amazing, still moist even halfway into the game, but I wouldn’t recommend the BBQ sandwich (the meat is too dry with not enough sauce).
As mentioned above, kids have a lot of fun at Irwin Belk Stadium, sliding down the grass hill on cardboard boxes, or tossing a football on the berm. It is also really cool you can get so close to the field – you can literally walk right down and stand two feet from the turf if you want. The facility is also very modern, with nice-looking brickwork and splashes of color in the form of Wingate logos on and around the field. The only potential downside is that the videoboard only shows team logos and not any game replays. However, they play great music during breaks in the action, including fun music that gets people up and dancing (songs the staff calls ‘bangers’), and the entertainment includes Wingate’s 2022 NCAA National Champion cheerleading squad.
Wingate, NC is a small town of less than four thousand located about 45 minutes southeast of Charlotte. There isn’t much in town – a few fast food places, a sushi restaurant named Wild Blue, and the awesomely named coffee shop Java the Cup – but there is plenty to do in Charlotte if you plan to be in the area for the day or weekend. There are also some interesting attractions outside of Charlotte, for example Carowinds on the South Carolina border, or a petting zoo called Why Not an American Ark nearer Wingate.
The fans at Irwin Belk Stadium are phenomenal – the stands are literally overflowing. In fact, at the last game I attended the PA announcer actually had to ask fans to move down to the middle of their rows (a.k.a. stop spreading out so much), so that more people could fit in the bleachers. Even after that there were plenty of fans standing around, and plenty of attendees sitting on the grass berm. The fans are also really into the game, and really seem to love their team. There is also a great tailgating scene outside the stadium.
Irwin Belk Stadium is easy to get to, and easy to get into and out of. The small town location helps, as this means there is not too much traffic, but there is also plenty of free parking right outside the main entrance. The facility is located right off Highway 74, and the concourse has plenty of room to move around. The only potential downside is the concessions lines tend to be a little long, but this is more than made up for by the free and close parking, and the ease of moving around the facility – as mentioned above you are even allowed to walk down the stairs to field level to get to the grass berm, or walk around to the visitors side, so you can literally watch from wherever you want.
Return on Investment 5
Tickets to Wingate football games are only $12, which is a steal for football at almost any level – rarely have I seen tickets cheaper than this. This represents a great return on investment for your sports dollar, as you get to experience a great, modern facility, a rabid fan base, and a pretty solid win record over the past five years under head coach Joe Reich (his brother Frank played quarterback for the Buffalo Bills back in the day behind Jim Kelly, leading the team to victory in that legendary playoff game against the Houston Oilers, and currently serves as the head coach of the Indianapolis Colts).
A big plus for the great fan base, leading to standing room only for some fans at recent games. Another plus for the Bulldog cheerleaders winning the national championship, a squad you get to see in action during every home football game. Another plus for the popular hashtag #Onedog, which even has a beer named after it, and a final plus for the great fun all the kids had cardboard-sledding down the hill at Irwin Belk Stadium.