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ECU braces for near capacity at Dowdy-Ficklen in first home opener

“We’re expecting a crowd of between 40 and 45,000, which is a significant increase from any of the size crowds that we had last year,” ECU Police Capt. Chris Sutton said.
Published: Sep. 8, 2021 at 6:59 PM EDT
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GREENVILLE, N.C. (WITN) - As Pirate Nation gears up for the start of football season, so is law enforcement.

East Carolina University will go against South Carolina in their first home game on Saturday, and kickoff is at noon.

The expected attendance of more than 40,000 people is what ECU Police Capt. Chris Sutton said they’ve been preparing for since the end of last season, and they’ll face the challenge of keeping them safe after facing empty bleachers for part of the last season due to the pandemic.

“At ECU, this is not the first time that any of us have worked football games before, with crowds this size, or even crowds larger,” Sutton said. “The agencies that are coming in to support us, all of those mutual aid agencies have worked with us in previous years, they have very experienced personnel.”

Greenville Police, Pitt County Sheriff’s Office, Winterville Police, Ayden Police, Highway Patrol and the FBI will help assist ECU to be proactive and continue to offer a more secure environment.

Fans are not required to wear masks while tailgating or at the stadium but it’s recommended for those who are unvaccinated. Anyone inside ECU’s buildings is required to wear a mask, per their policy.

Saturday’s game comes amid another pandemic school year with ECU seeing an increase in new cases among students, yet at least half of the student population on campus is vaccinated, according to the dashboard.

ECU Division of Health Sciences’ mobile health unit will be at Gate 5 to not only showcase what the health campus is doing, but to also offer the COVID-19 vaccine.

“We’re concerned about COVID all the time,” Shackelford said. “And the best thing that you can do ... is get vaccinated. If we have an opportunity to give the vaccine, we’re not going to miss out on the opportunity.”

An opportunity that includes South Carolina fans, which Shackelford said he’s not concerned about.

“We don’t believe that the South Carolina fans are going to bring in any more COVID than we have here … in fact, we’re happy they’re here,” Shackelford said. “Their soul and their spirit is just as important as their physical health, so we are excited that we are able to have some fun and have a football game and have some level of normality that we haven’t had in a long time, so I think that’s critical and important. The second thing is that we want to do it safely, so again, the same message that we continue to send, if you’re not vaccinated, get vaccinated. If you’re inside, wear that mask, wash your hands. Simple things like that will help mitigate the spread.”

Other concerns Sutton said law enforcement officials will monitor are extreme intoxication and binge drinking at tailgate fields.

“We want our students to have a great time and enjoy the atmosphere but also be very responsible in their behavior,” Sutton said.

He added there will be heat management plans in place with cooling stations and EMS personnel on hand.

Sutton expects traffic will be backed up Saturday morning until 11:30 a.m. and then pick back up again when the game ends between 3 to 3:30 p.m.

14th between Elm and Charles Boulevard and College Hill Drive from 10th Street up to 14th Street will close at 9 a.m. to allow for heavy pedestrian traffic.

Sutton recommends drivers avoid the area or take alternate routes on game day.

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