North Carolina Central University's O'Kelly-Riddick Stadium ranked 17th among Stadium Journey's Top 20 FCS Stadiums - 2019.
By Kyle Serba
The Eagles Soar in the Bull City. North Carolina Central University was founded a decade after the turn of the twentieth century. Twelve years later, in 1922, the Eagles launched their football program.
The Eagles Soar in the Bull City
North Carolina Central University was founded a decade after the turn of the twentieth century. Twelve years later, in 1922, the Eagles launched their football program. For five years the team was an independent, before joining the Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association for the next 42 years. The team then moved to the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference for seven years before rejoining the CIAA from 1979 through 2006.
After competing as a Division II Independent program for three seasons, 2010 was the year the Eagles finally joined the ranks of NCAA Division 1, as once again a member of the MEAC, which was a Division II conference when the Eagles were first a member. The Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference is a conference consisting of Historically Black Colleges and Universities (HBCUs); along with the Southwestern Athletic Conference (SWAC) they are the two Division I conferences that consist of HBCUs. The Eagles have played on campus at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium since 1975.
Food & Beverage 4
O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium offers a variety of delicious culinary offerings, but unlike most sports venues where food is purchased mostly from concession stands around the stadium, the majority of food here is found at food trucks from local restaurants that are all located behind the main concourse. Off the Hook Seafood, based in nearby Rolesville, offers fish, shrimp, or chicken tenders and fries for ten dollars each, or you can pick two or all three with fries for fifteen and twenty dollars respectively. The R&B Grill Food Truck offers a similar menu to Off the Hook, but with the added options of a Pork Chop combo, along with sausage dogs and Philly cheese steaks, all priced between 11 and 14 dollars.
For those looking for the more classic stadium fare, JC’s Kitchen Food Truck offers a hot dog for just three dollars or burgers and nachos for four dollars, as well as fish combos and chicken wings. For dessert, Flavor Desserts Bakery, based in both Durham and Greensboro, offers an assortment of cakes and cupcakes, fried Oreos, and Italian ice, and ice cream is also offered. There is also a concessions stand behind the stadium selling snacks and Pepsi products.
O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium is a very basic stadium with very few bells and whistles. It holds 10,000 people, which is small even by FCS standards. There is a nice-sized video board but for some reason the video does not take up the whole screen, and instead is only shown in a small square within the screen, making highlights and replays unnecessarily hard to see. The seating consists of metal bleachers on the east side of the stadium and regular bleachers on the west side. There is chair back seating for season ticket holders, with some additional seating behind the south end zone, and lawn seating behind the north end zone next to the track, though this is not technically inside the stadium itself.
The main positives are the game day atmosphere. The band, known as The Sound Machine, is fantastic, and the PA Announcer does a great job keeping the energy up without having to do it all on his own, as he often cues the DJ or The Sound Machine to keep the crowd loud during breaks or at big moments in the game. The band even has their own chant after the Eagles pick up a first down; there is truly never a dull moment during an NCCU Eagles football game.
O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium is located right in the center of North Carolina Central University, so there are not a ton of places to eat in the immediate vicinity apart from the on-campus dining halls. However, just two miles north of the stadium is downtown Durham, which offers so many different food offerings. Named “Tastiest Town in The South” in 2013 by Southern Living Magazine, whatever you are craving, Durham is sure to offer it, from Pie Pushers Pizza that offers fourteen different specialty pies to King’s Sandwich Shop, a Durham establishment since 1942 selling various sandwiches, burgers, hot dogs, and milkshakes. Dames Chicken and Waffles is also a popular southern combination, with different types of waffles and chicken prepared in a variety of ways, along with local brews to go along with any of the ten waffle combinations you can pick from. Finally, you can’t mention the Durham food scene without including Elmo’s Diner on Ninth Street, serving up classic American food, including breakfast. It’s very family-friendly, though you should be prepared for lines to get in. But it is well worth the wait, especially if you are new to Durham.
The Bull City has a lot to offer if you are looking to plan a day or a weekend around an Eagles football game. Downtown Durham offers a lot of local stores and boutiques along Main Street, Brightleaf Square, and the American Tobacco Campus. Or, if you are looking for more shopping options check out New Hope Commons shopping center or the Streets at Southpoint (an indoor and outdoor mall), both just ten minutes from NCCU’s campus. Alternatively, those who enjoy being in the great outdoors should head over to Sarah P. Duke Gardens on the campus of Duke University just four miles northwest of the stadium, or Eno River State Park which is a fifteen-minute drive in the same direction. And for those with children, a visit to the Museum of Life and Science is a short ten-minute drive north of O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium, and offers both an indoor museum and a large outdoor play area, including a train you can ride and a butterfly house.
The closest hotels to the stadium are downtown, which is not far from NCCU’s campus. There are plenty of chain hotels such as Courtyard by Marriott, Hilton, and Aloft, but if you are looking for something a little nicer, the Unscripted Durham and the 21c Museum Hotel are a three-star and four-star hotel respectively, with both offering a restaurant and the latter offering a spa and art gallery.
NCCU has a great fan base of students, locals, and alumni, and Eagle Pride is truly evident throughout O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium. My most recent visit was a Thursday night game, and though it was nationally televised, the stadium looked about two-thirds full, with most of the fans sitting on the west side of the stadium (admittedly, it was fall break at the university during my visit). But there was still a good tailgating scene outside of the stadium, and even with the stadium not at capacity the fans were still loud and engaged throughout the game, and with the DJ, PA Announcer, and The Sound Machine riling up the fans, the stadium was fairly loud. Normally the fans at an Eagles game would deserve a higher score, if it had been a regular Saturday at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium.
O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium is located on Fayetteville Street just five minutes south of downtown Durham. Traffic can be a problem if you are driving on I-85 or I-40 during rush hour, but once you are in Durham the traffic tends to ease up.
There is a parking deck for ten dollars not far from the stadium, but most of the other lots are reserved for students, faculty, and Eagle Club members. Handicap parking is available, and there are a number of Go Durham Buses that take you to campus from downtown, including the 5, 7, and 8. Fares are just a dollar each way, and it’s very convenient especially if coming on Greyhound, Amtrak, or Megabus from out of town, as the train and bus station are just two blocks apart. Raleigh-Durham International Airport is less than twenty minutes southeast in Morrisville, and the main gate into the stadium behind the west side is not too crowded and is hassle-free.
The bathrooms are clean but could use renovating, however, the concourses are fairly wide and are easy to navigate.
Return on Investment 4
Tickets for Eagles games are fifteen dollars in advance and twenty-five dollars at the gate, so it is worth getting them early if you are planning on attending an Eagles game. Food is a little pricey but is local and tasty, and you get a fair amount of it, so it is worth paying a little more for it. Overall an Eagles football game won’t cost an arm and a leg, and with an intimate stadium, a great band, and some high-quality FCS football, it is well worth the price.
The first point goes to the local delicious food offered at the stadium, while the second point is for the PA Announcer who inspires the entire stadium with Eagle Pride. Point number three goes to The Sound Machine marching band that plays throughout the game and gives a great performance at halftime. A fourth point goes to the DJ, which is a rarity in college football, and complimented the band well. Finally, a point goes to the incredible staff and fans.
North Carolina Central University is relatively new to the Division I college football scene; now entering its tenth season at that level, the program has not been intimidated by the rise in rank. The team continues to be competitive in the MEAC, and even played in the Celebration Bowl in 2016, the game which decides the HBCU National Championship.
The game day atmosphere at O’Kelly-Riddick Stadium is high energy. It is clear, though, that the stadium should be updated. It doesn’t need a major overhaul but updated restroom facilities, some changes to the video board, and a few other tweaks could make the stadium an even more desirable place to watch an Eagles football team.