Tonia Walker, the Director of Athletics for Winston-Salem State University, is carrying on a winning tradition for Rams Athletics. Ms. Walker shares her thoughts on what athletics means to individual competitors and to the communities that cheer for them, for Keep it Local: Sports Month.

Tonia Walker, Director of Athletics, Winston-Salem State University

Tonia Walker has served as director of athletics for Winston-Salem State University since May 2014.

In her tenure, the Rams have taken home 15 CIAA championships. Named the 2015-16 CIAA Athletic Director of the Year and the 2016 Administrator of the Year for the National Association for Collegiate Athletics Administrators, Walker works to continuously advocate for and champion WSSU student-athletes and opportunities for women and minorities.

Walker has been part of WSSU athletics since 2000.

Describe the past legacy and the current impact of WSSU Rams athletics on our community and on collegiate sports.

A vibrant and successful program is typically the front porch of any university. The same applies for Winston-Salem State University Athletics. Thriving on a legacy of athletics success, WSSU has a winning tradition that permeates all sports within the program. “Big House” Gaines, legendary basketball coach, along with players like Cleo Hill and Earl “The Pearl” Monroe put WSSU athletics on the map in the 1960s. Gaines and Monroe took WSSU to an NCAA national championship, the first of any HBCU.

Bill Hayes, the winningest football coach in the history of the institution, followed with back-to-back CIAA championships in football. In more recent history, Coach Connell Maynor led the Rams football program to the NCAA Division II National Championship game in 2012. Since 2010, the Rams have claimed 28 CIAA championships, including the first volleyball and women’s outdoor track titles in school history. 

Championship success has been at the helm of the Rams athletic program for quite some time. This type of success yields national exposure for the university and for Winston-Salem. There’s tremendous energy around Rams athletics. In August, the university unveiled a fierce new Ram logo. One national publication called the logo “devastatingly awesome.” WSSU athletics also reached a national audience of millions in November when our band and cheerleaders – along with our new logo – were featured on ESPN’s “First Take,” a show co-hosted by Ram alumnus and supporter Stephen A. Smith.

We also may have caught a few people by surprise last fall when Hero Sports named WSSU football – winner of three CIAA titles in the past six years – the top football program in North Carolina. 

People want to be associated with a winner, and having a winning athletics programs garners increased attention to the university, which in turn drives university applications.  

The success that WSSU has had also is attractive to corporations for sponsorships and partnerships. We have been able to secure an exclusive automobile sponsorship (Modern Automotive) and partnerships in Winston-Salem that are not common in Division II Athletics.

Our sporting events also have a huge impact on our local economy. The CIAA Indoor Track and Field Championships have been held in Winston-Salem for five of the last six years, bringing hundreds of athletes to our city.

Also, WSSU Homecoming week is one of the biggest annual events in Winston-Salem, with thousands of WSSU alumni and friends staying in hotels, dining in restaurants and attending events downtown. 

Our lifeline, the HORN$ Giving Club, has also yielded increased participation due to our success over the years. This is an opportunity for alumni, supporters, faculty and staff, to support the program financially through an annual contribution.

WSSU athletics has served the university and the city of Winston-Salem well, and the future looks bright!

What impact does playing sports have on students?

Playing a sport helps to prepare student-athletes for life after college. The average fan focuses on the wins and losses of an athletics program and the participant statistics, as in the number of touchdowns ran, the number of points scored, or the number of strikeouts in a single game. However, athletics serves as the foundation for so many athletes as they transition into adulthood. Athletics provides a sense of confidence and becomes the DNA for many who participate in athletics. Leadership skills are also evidenced through participation of athletics and are available after years of competitive sport. There are also many life skills that are also acquired by way of athletics as: punctuality, time management, adaptability, resilience and operating in a structured environment. These are the reasons that many companies are very intentional about hiring former student-athletes. 

I can truly say that athletics has been a pivotal part of my life, and I give credit to my days as a student-athlete for the woman, leader, and person that I am today.

 How can the community support Rams athletics?

  • Volunteer your time to become a mentor or serve as an ambassador or host an event or fundraiser.
  • Become a financial contributor. Financial support can be offered in the number of ways, from team and game sponsorship, becoming a HORN$ member, or by sponsoring and/or attending one of our fundraising events. 
  • Attend our games. Whether it’s a football game at historic Bowman Gray Stadium, the hallowed halls of the C.E. Gaines Center, or at BB&T Ballpark, there’s nothing like the excitement of cheering for Winston-Salem’s home team.

I challenge you to help support the Rams in our quest to take the program to new heights.

WSSU Athletics

Winston-Salem State University’s department of athletics offers a comprehensive intercollegiate athletic program for all students fielding teams in men’s and women’s cross country, women’s track and field, football, women’s tennis, women’s volleyball, softball, and baseball. Varsity and junior varsity cheerleading also function within the department as athletic teams. 

The program currently operates within the rules and regulations of Division II of the National Collegiate Athletic Association (NCAA) and is a member of the Central Intercollegiate Association (CIAA). Nearly 300 student-athletes compete in sports at WSSU each academic year.

The Chamber’s Keep it Local initiative promotes community support for local business ventures. Spending locally creates a strong economy and a sense of place which gives our town its unique lifestyle. The Keep it Local campaign will feature a different segment of businesses each month in 2018. March is Sports Month.