With Stadium Cutouts Hokies Fans From Across Nation “There In Spirit”

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Adam Ward and Allen Bowman rarely missed a Hokie football game.

As elementary school students, the Roanoke area natives began attending games with their families. This intense fandom extended to their days as Virginia Tech students, apartment mates, and alumni.

One of the last games that they attended together was in 2014 when Virginia Tech beat Ohio State in Columbus, Ohio, a noteworthy victory for the Hokies.

The following year, in August 2015, Ward, a videographer for WDBJ7 in Roanoke, and reporter Alison Parker were killed by a former co-worker during a live television broadcast at Smith Mountain Lake. Their deaths made national news.

On Saturday, when the Hokies play N.C. State for the first football game of the 2020 season, Ward will be in Lane Stadium one more time.

His picture, along with Bowman’s, printed in the form of cutouts, will sit side-by-side in the lower East side of the stadium.

Bowman and Ward will be among the approximately 1,000 Lane Stadium cutouts, all crafted from a weatherproof PVC plastic material and sticking up from the seats.

This year various iterations of these photo cutouts are appearing in sports stadiums across the globe because of the limitations that COVID-19 imposes on large crowds. The cutouts provide a way for fans’ faces to fill the seats and even to highlight and memorialize others, from family and friends who have passed away to beloved pets.

Through a partnership with Carilion Clinic, Virginia Tech fans can order cutouts for $70 each, with the full amount counting as a donation to the Hokie Club’s Keep Jumping Fund. The fund was launched in August to help the university navigate the financial impact of COVID-19 on student athletes and to aid other areas that provide daily support to them.

Each cutout is produced by SignSpot, a Blacksburg sign design business, and installed onto a seat in Lane Stadium for the entire season.

Cutouts can be purchased throughout the season, and purchasers will receive them at the season’s conclusion. Fans also can see their cutouts during the game, via a new Cutout Cam, by following Virginia Tech Athletics on social media (@HokiesFB and @hokiesports on Twitter and Instagram, Virginia Tech Athletics on Facebook).

Since Virginia Tech Athletics announced the cutouts in late August, orders have rolled in from around the country and the world, including from Alaska and Finland, said Grant Duncan, assistant athletics director for annual fundraising at the university.

“We knew our fans would love it,” Duncan said. “There are Hokies everywhere, and everyone is coming together on game day. It’s an opportunity for someone to be in Lane [Stadium] who might have been in Lane [in the past] or has never been able to visit Lane because of where they live.”

He said Athletics is considering selling cutouts for other Hokie sports in the future, but football is the first. Currently, Lane Stadium’s capacity is limited to 1,000 people during the game.

Katie Bowman, Allen Bowman’s wife, ordered the cutouts for Ward and her husband. She met the two friends at the same time at Virginia Tech, and Ward was the best man in the couple’s wedding.

“I love the idea of them being together,” said Katie Bowman, who graduated from Virginia Tech in 2012, a year after Ward and Allen Bowman graduated. “Anything to keep Adam’s memory alive. His family and friends have worked so hard to do that since his death. We miss him so much.”

Approximately 1,000 cutouts were placed in the stands at Lane Stadium prior to Virginia Tech’s season opener against N.C. State. Photo by Ray Meese for Virginia Tech.

The Bowmans and other friends typically throw a party around Adam’s birthday in May, but a gathering was not possible this year because of COVID-19.

Another Virginia Tech alumna, Pam Speed ’91, purchased a cutout photo of herself and her father, Harold “Sonny” Speed, who enjoyed attending games as a student and later with his family and as an usher. Though he lives in Christiansburg, he no longer is able to watch the Hokies play in-person in Lane Stadium.

“He misses coming to the games,” Speed said. “I thought that would be a fun tribute to him, to get him back in the stands.”

Bailey Breedlove, a 2018 Virginia Tech alumna, surprised her husband, Will Breedlove, with a cutout. Will Breedlove ’18, a Corps of Cadets alumnus, was deployed in Iraq last year and couldn’t attend a Hokie football game.

Now, the couple lives in Fairbanks, Alaska, where Will Breedlove is an Army officer at Fort Wainwright and Bailey Breedlove is a nurse.

With their travel abilities halted because of COVID-19 and no fans allowed at football games this season, Bailey Breedlove said her husband is disappointed that he can’t return to Blacksburg for a game. He played for the Highty-Tighties, the Corps’ regimental band, while he was a student, and he watched all of the Hokie football games from Iraq last year, despite an eight-hour time difference. While in Iraq, Will Breedlove also was honored as a Hokie Hero during a 2019 football game.

“He loves it so much,” Bailey Breedlove said. “I wanted him to be there in spirit.”

— Jenny Kincaid Boone