The Central Intercollegiate Athletic Association has canceled its football championship game scheduled for today in Winston-Salem, N.C., after an attack on Winston-Salem’s star quarterback by Virginia State players at the conference’s awards luncheon on Friday.
All-CIAA first-team quarterback Rudy Johnson, who is 9-0 as the Rams’ starter this season, was attacked in a restroom at the Anderson Center on Winston-Salem’s campus by several Virginia State players, Rams coach Connell Maynor said.
According to reports from the Winston-Salem Journal, one of the Virginia State players, backup running back Lamont Britt, 22, of Portsmouth, Va., was arrested by police and charged with misdemeanor assault 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. 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. A teammate was in the restroom before Johnson and tried to help him as much as possible, said a Winston-Salem State player who didn’t want to be identified.
Another Winston-Salem State player, who also didn’t want to be identified, told the Journal that it was an attack and not a fight, saying that the Trojans players decided to try to hurt Johnson.
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 ET Friday night, Reaves released a statement, which read:
“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.”
The Journal said that coach Latrell Scott of Virginia State did not return a message left on his cellphone. But the university posted a statement on its university website that read: “Virginia State University is aware of an incident involving student athletes from Winston-Salem State and Virginia State Universities. VSU officials are fully cooperating with the CIAA in their investigation, and as a result, will not be able to comment any further.”
Today’s title game, which was set to be televised on Bounce TV, 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.
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. Winston-Salem State has been ranked as a leading contender for the 2013 NCAA Division II football playoffs after reaching the championship game in 2012.