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  • Will Halpern

Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum – Wake Forest Demon Deacons

Photos by Will Halpern, Stadium Journey

Stadium Info FANFARE Score: 3.71

Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum 2825 University Pkwy Winston-Salem, NC 27105

Year Opened: 1989

Capacity: 14,665


It’s All Black and Gold at the Joel

For over a century after its founding in 1834, Wake Forest University was located in its namesake suburb north of Raleigh. In 1946, after receiving financial support from the Z. Smith Reynolds Foundation, the school decided to move a hundred miles west. The Deacons basketball program (which was launched in 1906) played from 1956 to 1989 at the old Winston-Salem Memorial Coliseum, which was gutted and replaced by the Lawrence Joel Memorial Coliseum, which now houses the men’s and women’s Wake Forest basketball programs.

The Joel is the sixth largest arena in the ACC, seating 14,665 people, and many great players and teams have graced the court over the years. While Wake Forest’s program has recently lost a bit of its luster, the Demon Deacons are trying to recapture the glory days of years past, and the Joel Coliseum provides a great backdrop to getting back to ACC contention.

Food & Beverage 5

Joel Coliseum offers a wide variety of food and beverage choices, with enough interesting local choices to make eating during the game (rather than afterwards or before) worthwhile. You’ll find your regular concessions stands, serving up a regular hot dog ($5) or a cheeseburger ($8). Add three dollars to either one to make it a basket with French fries, while a chicken tender basket is also offered at $9. Domino’s offers their pizza for seven dollars, however, if you want to get something just a little bit different go to the Golden Roost where you can dress your tender basket with buffalo or sweet chili sauce, or try their fried mac and cheese or baby corn dogs all for nine dollars apiece.

However, the real treat at Joel Coliseum is the stand serving up Prissy Polly’s Pig Pickin’ BBQ, based in nearby Kernersville. You can get your pork in either a sandwich ($5), a tray ($10), or a plate ($12) – both a tray and a plate offer you a half-pound of BBQ, but a plate gets you two sides and a bun, where the tray gets you one side. Speaking of sides, your five choices include brown sugar and bacon beans, house recipe mac and cheese, mashed potatoes and gravy, and sweet or BBQ coleslaw. You can also choose which style of BBQ you want, either vinegar style Eastern or Tomato-based Lexington (Western), and while Winston-Salem is less than a half-hour from Lexington, it’s nice to get that option, especially when the Deacons play their conference foes from the Triangle, like Duke, UNC, or NC State. Banana pudding is also offered for four dollars, and two specialty items to try are the BBQ chicken nachos and the NC pork BBQ sundae where layers of baked beans, mashed potatoes, bacon, and BBQ are combined. As for beverages, this is also the only place to get a sweet or unsweet tea for four dollars, and here and throughout the rest of the arena, a regular or souvenir fountain Pepsi product soft drink will cost you three and six dollars respectively.

At Joel Coliseum you can find a variety of beer, but it varies by stand; eight dollars will get you a Bud, Miller Lite, or Yuengling, Bud Light and Michelob Ultra are also sold in aluminum bottles as well, and local Foothills Brew is also available on tap. In addition, you could opt for the standard Dippin’ Dots for dessert or the local Mayberry premium ice cream, where you get your choice of vanilla, chocolate, cookies & cream, butter pecan, black cherry, or cookie dough. A single scoop goes for $4 with an additional scoop a dollar extra, and if you want your ice cream in a waffle cone that’s also a buck extra.

Atmosphere 3

Joel Coliseum is your standard basketball arena, but depending on where you sit you may get a very different view of the game. The ideal seats are located in sections 117-121 or, if you want to save some money, 228-234 are also recommended. Those are both located at or near center court with the large block W and F facing your direction. This allows you to view the larger portion of the jumbotron, as the screens are significantly smaller when facing from behind either basket.

Joel Coliseum, like many larger arenas, has seats in the upper level that are far from the action, but nothing too extreme, and given that most Deacons games don’t sell out you can often find decent seats for a reasonable price. The band, the cheerleading squad, and the Demon Deacons mascot keep the energy up during the game, and standard promotions help keep the fans involved during game stoppages. However, despite the effort, the atmosphere seems fairly tame especially compared to other ACC schools, as the Deacons struggle for relevance among college basketball programs in the ACC and throughout North Carolina.

Neighborhood 3

Joel Coliseum is located in the Winston-Salem Entertainment and Sports Complex, three miles north of downtown and a mile southeast of Wake Forest’s main Reynolds Campus. The complex also includes BB&T Field and David F. Couch Ballpark, the home fields for the Demon Deacon football and baseball teams, and next door is the Dixie Classic Fair. Although it’s true that there is not a lot going on in the immediate area of the complex, there are a few options to eat on University Parkway, less than a mile from the arena. Some of the choices include Putter’s Patio and Grill, which boasts Winston-Salem’s best steaks; they’re served up with your choice of side, salad, and bread with butter. Their variety of steaks includes New York strip, ribeye, tenderloin tips, and filet mignon. While it may be a bit pricey for some, averaging around thirty dollars per plate, if you’re stopping by for lunch they offer a special 8-ounce ribeye with a side for just $13.75. Or if steak isn’t your thing, burgers, hot dogs, sandwiches, and fajitas are among the other options offered on their large menu.

Alternatively, on the next block over is Elizabeth Italian’s Restaurant and Pizzeria, which is your classic Italian trattoria offering numerous hot and cold pasta dishes, specialty pizzas, sandwiches, and meat entrees. Or just an additional block away you’ll find Prime Tyme Soul Cafe, offering down-home southern soul food including fried chicken, shrimp, pork chops, and fish, along with numerous sides like coleslaw, fried okra, collard greens, hush puppies, and mac and cheese, along with wings, sandwiches, and homemade pies, cakes, and banana pudding.

Winston-Salem is North Carolina’s fifth-largest city, and there is a lot to see and do inside the city limits. A ten-minute drive south will take you to the Old Salem Museum and Gardens, a historic preserved Moravian Village from the mid-1700s and a great place to walk around and experience a simpler time. Those who enjoy art should make the three-mile trek west to the Reynolda House Museum of American Art, which houses an impressive collection of pieces from colonial times to the present day, and with the nearby 129-acre Reynolda Gardens and Wake Forest’s main campus, there are a lot of places to walk around. Those who enjoy shopping could head downtown to browse the various gardens, boutiques, and local shops, or, for those looking for chain stores, Hanes Mall is located fifteen minutes from Joel Coliseum and offers more than 200 stores (until 2004 this was the largest enclosed shopping mall in North Carolina). Those with young children should venture out to Kaleideum North or Kaleideum Downtown, the former with a science theme, planetarium, and nature park, and the latter focused more on literature and the arts, including a theatre showing different performances for children; Joel Coliseum sits an equidistant ten-minute drive from either museum.

The majority of places to stay near Joel Coliseum are going to be found in and around the downtown core. The two hotels within a mile of the coliseum are Courtyard by Marriott and Best Western Plus, but if you’re looking for something different, the Historic Brookstown Inn is four miles south. Opened in 1837, this hotel features a wine and cheese reception with a free glass of wine from local wineries, fresh baked cookies and milk at night, and a hot breakfast offered as well.

Fans 2

There are passionate Deacons fans out there, and this in no way takes away from those that come out and cheer on the black and gold night in and night out, but the numbers are concerning, as the Deacons have been dead last in attendance percentage among the fifteen ACC schools, dropping from 57 percent to 52 percent and eventually 47 percent after this season’s conclusion. While I understand Wake Forest has only about 5,300 undergraduates, the arena is off-campus, the team has fallen on hard times recently, and has surrounding competition from other high profile programs within a two hour drive, but the decreasing fan numbers should be alarming for any Deacons fan. At a recent matchup against in-state foe North Carolina, attendance was just short of 11,000 which is about three-quarters full, with a lot sporting Carolina Blue. The fans who do show up are passionate, knowledgeable, and loyal. The building did get loud at times, but there was nothing close to an intimidating atmosphere. The hope is that more wins will translate into The Joel bringing back the energy from decades past.

Otherwise, it may be time to consider looking into scaling back the arena’s seating capacity. That’s not to say that they don’t have the potential to start selling out the building again, but a few thousand fewer seats could create a more intimate space with higher energy throughout the season, and more opportunities for a higher percentage of the seats to be filled. Below fifty percent capacity is tough for any school, especially a Power 5 Conference school.

Access 4

Getting to and from Joel Coliseum is relatively easy and hassle-free. The traffic is not too bad, and you’ll only see a moderate slow down when big names are in town. This also impacts the price of parking: while for most Wake Forest basketball games parking is abundant, easy to find, and only ten dollars, at the higher profile match-ups such as the Heels or Blue Devils, parking goes up to twenty dollars, and you may have to park outside of the Coliseum’s main lot, and park across Deacon Boulevard adjacent to BB&T Field. Luckily there is a pedestrian tunnel that can be used to access the lots.

If you’re looking to take public transportation from the downtown Greyhound station, the 90, 91, 92, and 106 buses will all bring you close to the arena and will only cost you a dollar each way – however, depending on game time, the buses may stop running after the game, so check schedules online. Piedmont Triad International Airport is 30 minutes to the east, and PART buses can connect you from points throughout the Triad including the airport for just $2.50 each way including downtown Winston-Salem.

There are a few entry gates at Joel Coliseum, and the main entrance can see some lines, though nothing too long. The concourse is wide and easy to navigate, and handicap parking and seating are available.

Return on Investment 4

Attending a Deacons game is typically a great value, with ticket prices starting at $15-$20 for non-conference games, and $25 and up for conference games. If you are hoping to see a big-name opponent, like a Louisville, Virginia, or the three in-state schools (Duke, UNC, or NC State) expect to shell out more – I would advise to always check on the secondary market closer to game time, as you can often score a great deal, since sellouts haven’t been common recently, and tickets should be available for reasonable prices. If you don’t mind sitting in the cheap seats and seeing a non-marquee match-up, with ten-dollar parking and a fifteen to twenty dollar average concessions cost, you shouldn’t be paying more than fifty dollars to attend a Wake Forest basketball game, which even with recent struggles is still an ACC team, who can win on any given night.

Extras 5

One point goes to the wide variety of concessions including the delicious local BBQ, ice cream, and beer. A second point goes to the celebration of breast cancer survivors and the tribute that they received on the court. A third point goes to the retired jersey numbers lining the rafters, with not just the name but the player’s photo, and a fourth point is for the incredibly friendly staff throughout Joel Coliseum who are always happy to lend a hand. Finally, a point for the jerseys on display on the wall throughout the concourse of the many great Demon Deacons to play in the NBA, including Tim Duncan, Chris Paul, and Muggsy Bogues, who was the Association’s shortest player at 5’3” and a standout for the in-state Charlotte Hornets.

Final Thoughts

Lawrence Joel Veterans Memorial Coliseum has hosted some great Wake Forest Demon Deacon players and teams for the three decades it’s been open in Winston-Salem. Recently the team has struggled and attendance is suffering as a result. However, if the team can turn the corner and contend in the ACC, then fan interest will increase and make the building an intimidating place for other teams to play in. All it could take is the next big star like a Tim Duncan or a Chris Paul to put Wake Forest and Joel Coliseum on the map again.

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