When the clock hit zero, the Truist Field scoreboard marked a resounding 37-13 win for the Clemson Tigers over the Demon Deacons. Yet, as one of the many signs parked outside of the football stadium showed, Wake Forest fans still had a lot to cherish in a different score category, “COVID Scores: 71-1,247. Wake Wins,” read the sign. The relatively low number of cases that Wake Forest is experiencing compared to universities across the nation has allowed socially distant events like watch parties to engage students on campus, because the university has been able to stay in the Yellow operating zone.
With handmade signs, decorated cars, old gold & black gear and true Demon Deacon spirit, students have continued to cheer on the Wake Forest football team from afar through watch-parties and drive-in event alternatives to stadium seating.
The Office of Student Engagement has hosted watch parties, in which the game is broadcasted for students in the tents across campus. Each watch party has been limited to 25 participants due to social distancing guidelines, and they have also required the use of physical distancing, mask compliance, contact tracing measures and single-serve food and snack options.
The outdoor watch parties and drive-ins provide students with the opportunity to socialize with friends while watching the game, which is especially important for getting first-year students — who do not live in suite-style dorms or have access to lounge spaces in residence halls where they could gather to watch the game — involved.
“Sports bring people together and, in a world where so much is tearing us apart right now, they are needed more than ever,” said senior Sam Wexler, a member of the Athletic Student Leadership Council. “I am excited for all of the athletes who worked so hard since June to get to play their respective sports and I am excited to have the Demon Deacon hype bringing us all together.”
Students have also gathered for drive-ins hosted by the Office of University Events and Athletics at The Drive at Winston-Salem Fairgrounds, where the winners of a ticket lottery are able to watch the game on a large projector from their vehicle. While there, students can socialize with their friends, play cornhole or throw football, and snack on stadium favorites like hot dogs and hamburgers or check out food trucks, such as Que Viva! Latin Street Grill and Chick-fil-A.
Students can win a parking space at the Trust Drive-in for home and away football games by downloading the new Screamin’ Demon Rewards app and entering into a ticket lottery. Each entry can include up to four students per vehicle, and a maximum of 200 vehicles can be randomly selected due to limited space.
The app also incentivizes attendance at Wake Forest athletic events by offering prizes and increasing the chances of winning the lottery based on greater amounts of points accumulated through attendance at games and participation in virtual and in-person athletic events. Students can also earn Dedicated Deac points by staying for the entirety of an athletic event.
The importance of fan engagement through these safe alternatives to crowded stands and tailgates at Truist Field has been especially important this year due to COVID-19.
“It has definitely been tricky to engage students with no fans allowed in the stands but I think the Athletic Department has done a great job at coming up with alternate options,” Wexler said. “The drive-in watch parties have been an awesome addition that is keeping people engaged and creating as much of a game atmosphere as we can provide given all of the regulations.”
The drive-in watch parties have also built on the momentum of the first College GameDay to come to Wake Forest for the Clemson game, with on-campus surprises like the College GameDay bus and exclusive GameDay t-shirts being handed out to students, as well as a virtual pep rally and performance from the Spirit of the Old Gold and Black.
“Getting the College GameDay bus, and College GameDay itself, to come was such a huge deal and has definitely been the most successful thing this fall,” Wexler said. “For not being able to have fans in the stands and normal events, the execution of GameDay was awesome in terms of engaging students and the community.”
The university aims to continue to provide spaces for students to safely experience gameday together. To that end, it is continually looking to improve its watch parties, with special attention to Manchester Plaza due to its proximity to many first-year residence halls. There are also plans to streamline the check-in process at these events.
Unfortunately, all watch parties and the drive-in for the Notre Dame game have been postponed after seven members of the Notre Dame team tested positive for COVID-19. Yet, the expectation is to continue holding the events as long as Wake Forest continues to operate under Yellow circumstances and college football continues.
“It is great that students have a choice to go somewhere to watch games,” said Tim Wilkinson, the Associate Dean for Student Engagement. “If we can figure out a way to bring students together that is safe and within guidelines, we will continue to do so.”
Building off the momentum started by watch parties and drive-ins, the university will also welcome fans back into the stadium at Truist Field for the first time this season at the game against Campbell University on Friday, Oct. 2. The decision was made in accordance with North Carolina Governor Roy Cooper’s announcement that outdoor stadiums can operate at 7% capacity, which allows for 2,205 out of 31,5000 seats in total to be filled at Truist Field.