Tech Fans Send Soldiers, Kids to Gator Bowl
by Will Stewart, TechSideline.com, 12/25/97
Note from Will: This article appeared in the Christmas Day edition of The Roanoke Times, on the bottom of the front page (slow news day!). The article was written by UVa grad Dan Uthman, who was a pretty nice guy, despite his orange and blue roots.
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The Internet was created to help the U.S. Army communicate during times of war.
This Christmas season, in a time of relative peace, the Internet is helping the Army - and some disadvantaged kids - get to a football game.
Forty soldiers stationed in Hunter Army Airfield in Savannah, GA, will board a bus and ride to Jacksonville, FL, on New Year's Day to watch Virginia Tech play North Carolina in the Gator Bowl.
They have two Tech fans, Don Shaver and Will Stewart, to thank for getting them there. Stewart, a 1987 Tech graduate, runs a Web site dedicated to Tech athletics - HokieCentral.com - when he's not working as a software engineer in Radford.
Several weeks ago, some Tech fans began posting messages on HokieCentral.com saying they wanted to buy $35 Gator Bowl tickets to support the Hokies, but weren't actually able to attend the game.
"A lot of Hokies are really proud of the program and can't go to the game, but want to do something to help," Stewart said.
Shaver, a regular visitor to the site, responded by posting a message on an electronic bulletin board in Jacksonville. He asked for charities interested in watching the Gator Bowl for free.
Karl Lindquist, a company commander at Hunter Airfield, responded immediately. He was interested partly because he is a 1988 Tech graduate and a rabid Tech sports fan, and partly because he knew it would be a great Christmas gift for his men.
"It's my job to take care of them," Lindquist said.
Stewart took care of the rest.
Once Shaver had a couple of charities, Lindquist's Army company and the Big Brothers Big Sisters of Jacksonville, lined up, Stewart asked his readers for support.
"People would buy tickets and give them away other years," said Tom McNeer, Virginia Tech's ticket manager. "No one has made the kind of effort Will did to set up this situation."
Stewart announced the ticket drive December 15. The next day at noon, Tech fans had bought 40 for Lindquist's company and 60 for the Big Brothers Big Sisters. Stewart later asked if there were other groups that would like to see the game. That led him to a Navy captain and Tech alumnus in Miami, Patrick Crow. Tech fans bought 50 more tickets for Crow and his men.
Willing buyers weren't hard to find. Stewart launched his Web site in March of 1996. He has 2000 different visitors to his site per week making 13,000 visits, or "hits" in Internet parlance.
When it comes to supporting their school, they tend to have deep pockets, too. Although Stewart sells a few memberships that add extra amenities to his service, he often receives unsolicited donations. One anonymous donor sent him $250 so faithful HokieCentral.com readers could gather for a tailgate party Sept. 13 at the Tech-Syracuse football game.
The charity helps the Tech athletic department as much as it does the groups that will use the tickets. It's as important to have people cheering for your school at a bowl game as it is imperative that people buy tickets.
"The point has always been made through the sports pages to all college football fans that it's important for your program," McNeer said. "Your fate sometimes can be determined by how well you travel."
Virginia Tech Athletic Director Jim Weaver said the Hokies had sold approximately 8,000 tickets for the Gator Bowl as of December 13 (note from Will: the final total was about 10,500). By December 17, the school had sold 8,300. Stewart's drive accounted for half of the increase.
While Tech fans may draw satisfaction from their good deeds, it will be the soldiers under Lindquist's command who will get the most out of the situation.
Just getting out of the barracks for half a day is a great reward for many of Lindquist's underlings. He likened the scene around the base during the holidays to the Tech dormitories during a break in classes. There's little fun and lots of loneliness.
"A lot of them can't go home, and many of them are single," Lindquist said. "Some of them don't have a family to go home to even if they could afford it."
By donating Gator Bowl tickets, some Tech fans have shown their appreciation for these soldiers' efforts in keeping peace on earth.
Stewart took care of the "good will toward men" part.