Virginia Tech students learn real-world skills from the sidelines
Hokies fans live for game day during football season. It’s the rush of “Enter Sandman,” the bleachers shaking below the student section, and players running out onto the field that make Virginia Tech’s entrance known across the nation. Fans devour turkey legs served at Lane Stadium, shake their keys on third downs, and often lose their voices by halftime.
In the background of this excitement, there is a large team of students who are behind-the-scenes for athletic events for Virginia Tech Athletics and HokieVision as photographers, ticket sellers, marketing interns, and with sports medicine and strategic communications staffs.
For football games alone, dozens of students work at Lane Stadium. They help cover and produce 60 percent of the content that is displayed on social media, televisions, and video scoreboards by HokieVision, which is Virginia Tech Athletics’ video department. Hokie Vision has eight undergraduate students on scholarship, five graduate assistants, and nearly 50 student production assistants.
Along with HokieVision, VT Athletics Photography and various departments work together to cover Virginia Tech’s 22 intercollegiate sport teams.
The exposure and experience students receive from working with Virginia Tech Athletics can help propel their careers while they produce valuable content for the university.
“The experience for our students is invaluable, both in getting them hands-on training on broadcast-level equipment, but also putting them in real-life broadcast situations,” said Jed Castro, senior director for HokieVision. “They also get to interact with professionals in the industry, including local news, media relations, [and] marketing, as well as conference executives and ESPN employees.”
Dave Knachel, senior director of photography and design for Athletics, also works with students to help them develop valuable skills in the media industry.
“The people that work with me know that football games don’t just happen, good football teams don’t just happen,” said Knachel. “There is a lot of behind-the-scenes work going on that enables teams to be successful. Every part of it is important; the photography team doesn’t do much on the field to help us win football games but behind the scenes we do some things that hopefully will help toward that effort.”
Meet a few of the Hokie students who work behind-the-scenes.
Gracie Smith, a junior studying public relations, has been a Virginia Tech Athletics photographer since 2016. She hopes this job will help her land a future career with a professional sports team either working in either public relations or the media department.
On a typical football game day, Smith arrives four to five hours before the event to go over the schedule for the day. She takes pictures of the Hokie Walk, which is when football players arrive at Lane Stadium, and other events to share on social media. She also covers team warm-ups in the stadium. Finally, when “Enter Sandman” plays, she captures the entrance and the energy inside Lane Stadium.
“Every time I work a football game, you would think ‘Enter Sandman’ would get old,” said Smith. “But every time you are standing on the field and feel ‘Enter Sandman’ in the floor of the stadium, it never gets old and I always look forward to it.”
Throughout the game, the photographers and media personnel are constantly capturing moments and sending them out to the fans via social media. Smith said that once there is a touchdown, the photographers ask each other, “Who got it?” and then they’ll run to send it to social media.
Noah Nichols is a public relations major and a marketing intern for Athletics. Nichols recently took on the primary spot overseeing the volleyball, lacrosse, track and field, and cross-country programs. His tasks include coordinating promotional schedules and budgetary responsibilities, planning and leading the execution of all promotions, handling such events as Senior Day for a sport, and scriptwriting for announcers.
“Working for Athletics has truly been an eye-opening and amazing experience into what it takes to pull off any event within the Athletics department,” said Nichols. “People do not often realize the number of people it takes just to make a seemingly easy event like a soccer game happen on any given night. The opportunity to learn from an award-winning staff such as Virginia Tech's has been great.”
Maya Sampson, a junior multimedia journalism major, is a student production assistant for HokieVision. She works with cameras, audio, and the replay system.
Sampson has worked for Virginia Tech Athletics since February 2017 and said the job has helped her realize what she wants to do when she graduates. She has found her passion is being in the control room and feeling the adrenaline rush of fast-paced video production.
“I have gained not only experience in the field I want to work in, but I've got great networking experience under my belt,” she said. “Not only are my bosses well-embedded in the industry I wish to be a part of someday, but I've been able to meet and work alongside those who work at major networks like ESPN, which will be very beneficial once I graduate.”
Castro, alongside Knachel and many other mentors within the VirginiaTech Athletics department, is helping to mold students into sports media professionals. The skills students are gaining are paramount in furthering their careers. Students on the sidelines are not only building their resumes, but also gaining life skills as part of a top-notch college athletics department.
“The two most important things we do is entertain fans, whether that is in one of our venues or fans watching our broadcasts; and share the stories of Virginia Tech’s student athletes in the best light possible,” said Castro.
Written by Haley Cummings