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ADAM WARD AND ALLEN BOWMAN rarely missed a Hokie football game.

As elementary school students, the Roanoke area natives attended games with their families. Their intense fandom grew during their days as Virginia Tech students, apartment mates, and then as alumni following their 2011 graduation.

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FAN-TASTIC: Allen Bowman and Adam Ward (front row from left) were featured in cutouts in Lane Stadium.

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.

But when the Hokies kicked off the 2020 football season on Sept. 26, Ward and Bowman were once again side-by-side in the West Stands, thanks to the Lane Stadium Fan Cutout program.

“I love the idea of them being together,” said Katie Bowman ’12, the wife of Allen Bowman, who purchased the cutouts. “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.”

The program, which allows fans to have a life-size photo of themselves or others placed in a stadium seat, was just one of the ways Virginia Tech Athletics helped keep traditions alive and students, fans, and alumni engaged during the pandemic-shortened season.

Football typically pulses as the heartbeat of the Hokie Nation, bringing tens of thousands of fans together. But the 2020 season opened with Lane Stadium limited to no more than 1,000 spectators to help fight the spread of COVID-19.

About 1,000 cutouts, all crafted from a weatherproof PVC plastic material, occupied seats when Virginia Tech notched a 45-24 victory over North Carolina State in the home opener. The images featured adults, babies, and pets, with a few celebrities sprinkled in, such as alumna Hoda Kotb and members of the band Metallica.

Orders came from across the country and around the world, according to Grant Duncan, assistant athletics director for annual fundraising at the university.

“We knew our fans would love it,” Duncan said. “There are Hokies everywhere. 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.”

Prior to the game, hundreds of Hokies from around the globe chimed in during a virtual roll call and viewed the Hokies’ Walk Through on Facebook Live, while more than 9,000 used one or more of the features available on the Hokie Sports mobile app between 7 and 8 p.m.

The Highty-Tighties and Color Guard performed the national anthem and “Tech Triumph” via video recordings. Skipper was fired at the end of each quarter and for every Hokie score. The Marching Virginians, Virginia Tech Spirit Squads, and the HokieBird live-streamed performances.

Fans were also connected to Lane Stadium through Virginia Tech’s Virtual Sellout campaign, which offered the opportunity to purchase a virtual seat, receive a variety of commemorative items, and the chance to win a VIP experience during the 2021 football season. Like the cutouts, all proceeds from the season-long effort support Virginia Tech student-athletes and help mitigate the budget deficit expected to result from COVID-19. JKB/TW