The much-talked about CIAA football championship game between Winston-Salem State and Virginia State universities was canceled Friday after a player was assaulted at an awards luncheon.
Quarterback Rudy Johnson, who is 9-0 as the Rams’ starter this season, was attacked in a restroom at the Anderson Center on WSSU’s campus by several Virginia State players, coach Connell Maynor of the Rams said.
One of the Virginia State players, backup running back Lamont Darnell Britt, 22, of Portsmouth, Va., was arrested by Winston-Salem police and charged with assault and inflicting serious injury.
Lt. Henry Gray of the Winston-Salem State University Police said Britt assaulted Johnson by hitting Johnson in the face and head, according to the arrest warrant.
Johnson has a swollen eye and a laceration above his eye, the warrant said. Britt was being held Friday night in the Forsyth County Jail with his bond set at $7,500. A jail spokesman said he was no longer being held on Saturday.
Britt is scheduled to appear Dec. 9 in Forsyth District Court
“Their players jumped our starting quarterback, Rudy Johnson, and swelled up his eye and busted up his lip and some other things,” Maynor said. “And basically that’s what happened, and for the safety of the players and everybody else, they are canceling the game.”
The incident occurred at the end of the luncheon. Another WSSU player was in the restroom before Johnson and tried to help him as much as possible, said another WSSU player who didn’t want to be identified.
Another WSSU player, who also didn’t want to be identified, said it was an attack not a fight: “They decided to go in there and try to hurt Rudy,” he said.
Chancellor Donald Reaves of WSSU was at the luncheon and summed up what he knew soon afterward, saying: “We don’t know a lot of what happened, but we do know our starting quarterback, Rudy Johnson, was beaten up, and he didn’t beat himself up.”
About 7:30 Friday night, Reaves released a statement, saying:
“I am saddened to report that at today’s CIAA pre-championship game luncheon held at the Anderson Center of the WSSU campus that our starting quarterback, Rudy Johnson, was viciously beaten by one or more members of the Virginia State football team. There is no excuse for the behavior of the Virginia State players.”
Nancy Young, a WSSU spokeswoman, said she attended Friday’s CIAA luncheon before the incident between Johnson and the Virginia State players. Both football teams sat on opposite sides of the room in the Anderson Center during the two-hour luncheon.
WSSU and VSU students, staff, and faculty members attended the luncheon in which football players received awards, according to the court records.
At some point, Johnson left the room to go to the restroom, Young said. That’s when he was confronted by five Virginia State players. Johnson identified Britt, a junior VSU football player, as the person who struck him, according to court records.
Afterward, Young saw both teams gathering in the rear of the banquet room, and their coaches had to separate the players, she said.
“No one expected anything like this to happen,” Young said.
Pat Norris, WSSU’s chief of police, said that Johnson was taken to a local hospital for treatment and released. Norris later dropped off Johnson at the Bowman Gray Stadium field house, but he jumped into a teammate’s car and was whisked away to campus.
Maynor said that Johnson was suffering headaches but that he should be OK in a few days.
“Rudy’s fine, and he’s keeping ice on it, so the swelling will go down,” Maynor said. “The team is upset, and they are in shock, and they wanted to play the game. I couldn’t guarantee that I could keep all 55 of my guys in check for the game, and all it would take would be one comment or something like that. So no coach could guarantee that.”
Coach Latrell Scott of Virginia State did not return a message left on his cellphone.
Today’s title game would have matched two 9-1 teams that are ranked in the AFCA’s Division II Top 25.
Jacqie Carpenter, the CIAA commissioner, said in a statement that the CIAA volleyball semifinals and final, also scheduled to be played this weekend at WSSU, have been canceled.
Carpenter said in a statement that the decision to cancel the football game was an obvious one.
“We did not make this decision lightly, as its impact is far and wide — affecting our student-athletes, alumni, fans, sponsors and more,” her statement said. “But the CIAA has long had policies to encourage responsible behavior, and must consider what is necessary to assure days like today are not repeated, ever.”
Maynor said he was afraid there would be more trouble between the teams if the game were played.
“We don’t want to take a chance with emotions flying high that a brawl would break out in the game or even the fans get involved,” Maynor said.
Defensive lineman Donnie Owens of WSSU said Friday afternoon, before the game was canceled, that he couldn’t believe what happened at the luncheon.
“This is some crazy stuff right now,” Owens said. “We are supposed to be playing a football game tomorrow. That’s what our focus should be on.”
Maynor said he saw no signs that there would be trouble at the luncheon, which recognized the All-CIAA selections and honored the teams in the title game.
“I was just sitting down eating my lunch, and one of my players came up to me and said that Rudy got jumped in the bathroom,” Maynor said, “so I immediately went to their coach, and then Rudy came into the room, and his eye was already swollen up with blood.”
Asked what he thought the far-reaching implications would be, Maynor said: “It’s very unfortunate that a young man (Britt) doesn’t realize what he’s done. He doesn’t realize the implications of what this does for football and the CIAA and for his university and our university…. It’s a sad, sad day for HBCUs.”
Canceling the game could hurt Virginia State’s chances of getting an NCAA Division II playoff berth. The Trojans (9-1) are No. 6 in the Super One Region and could get pushed out of that sixth spot depending on what happens with Saturday’s games. The Rams (9-1) are at No. 2 in the region and would seemingly be in good shape to get into the playoffs.
Carpenter said that ticket holders should contact the place of purchase for a refund on their tickets. Ticket holders who purchased their tickets through TicketMaster will automatically receive a refund, she said.
Winston-Salem Mayor Allen Joines said the cancellation of the CIAA championship football game will disappoint both teams and their fans.
“It is unfortunate that this incident is going to penalize the two teams and all the fans of both schools,” Joines said.
Joines couldn’t estimate how much the game’s cancellation would hurt local hotels, restaurants and gas stations that wouldn’t get the business of fans who planned to attend the game at Bowman Gray Stadium and possibly stay two nights in the city.
“It will have a negative economic impact,” Joines said of the game’s cancellation.
Journal reporter John Hinton contributed to this story.