BLACKSBURG — Virginia Tech students say they had a much safer experience at Lane Stadium on Saturday than they had the previous weekend.
Entering both the stadium and the stands were hazardous situations for some students at the Oct. 9 football game against Notre Dame because of overcrowding. Virginia Tech officials emailed students five days later about changes for Saturday’s game against Pittsburgh. In their letter, they also criticized students’ behavior.
Students found the students-only gate at the northeast entrance to the stadium to be better organized Saturday, thanks in part to the presence of more law-enforcement officers and stadium personnel.
“It was like a mosh pit [on Oct. 9],” Tech sophomore Katie Wickham said during Saturday’s game. “This time it was a lot better.”
The other congestion problem at the Notre Dame game occurred inside the concrete passageways that funnel students from the concourse to certain sections in the east stands. Students were crammed into those portals and got stuck at the Oct. 9 game. But as the passageways or stands filled up on Saturday, stadium personnel and law-enforcement officers were there to redirect them to other portals.
“We were all moving, no pushing [in the portal Saturday],” Tech junior Christian Will said at Saturday’s game. “It was pretty orderly.”
And what happened once students settled in their seats?
Goochland County resident Kevin Kelly said at game’s end that the “drunken behavior” that students displayed at previous games was not in evidence Saturday.
“A world of difference,” he said.
Entering the stadium
This season, Tech turned Gate 7 at the northeast entrance into a students-only gate. It is used by students heading for the north end-zone stands or the east stands; students in the north end-zone stands must use Gate 7.
The congestion at Gate 7 was so bad at the Notre Dame game that students complained of being pinned against metal fences.
Tech officials announced in last Thursday’s message that it would restrict student attendance to season-ticket holders and to a more limited number of student lottery winners.
“It was a lot different [Saturday]. Virginia Tech adhered to a lot of what they said in terms of making sure there was a limited amount of students,” Tech senior Brandon Caves said at the game.
There was still a long line Saturday as students made their way from tailgating at Center Street to the stadium. Students moved between fences as they walked behind the football practice facility to the ticket scanners at the front of the line.
There were at least 30 law-enforcement officers and stadium employees stationed at various points in the line. When one point in the line became clogged, an employee removed a trash can to open a new path.
“Definitely more controlled, not as crazy,” Tech junior Ben Hornbeck said at Saturday’s game. “Last week we were getting pushed. … They upped security [Saturday], they organized it better and there’s less people.”
“We got in a lot quicker today than last weekend,” Tech sophomore Kerry O’Sullivan said.
A lack of staff has been an issue at Tech games this season. Some students blamed the overcrowding at the Notre Dame game to overwhelmed workers letting in students with fake tickets or no tickets.
In last week’s letter, Tech warned that students “entering the game illegally or who violate line protocols” would be referred to Tech’s office of student conduct.
Students said stadium personnel did a thorough job of checking tickets Saturday and even turned some people away who did not have the appropriate tickets.
“It was still crowded, but it was a lot more organized,” Tech senior Emma Fravel said at Saturday’s game. “They had the bag checking further back, and it kind of streamlined the process of getting up to where they [scan] your tickets. … Last week the ticket-checkers, it didn’t seem like they were actually checking tickets. They didn’t actually scan it. They scanned it today.”
The first 5,000 students who arrive at Tech games sit in the north end-zone stands, but the rest sit in certain sections of the east stands.
At the Notre Dame game, some students became stuck in the tunnel-like portals that funnel them from the concourse to their part of the east stands. Students complained of having trouble breathing and seeing peers faint.
O’Sullivan said she was “smooshed” inside a passageway for 30 minutes at the Notre Dame game.
“It was insane,” she said. “This time they blocked one of them off when it was too full. It was a lot easier this time.”
On Saturday, there were law-enforcement officers and stadium staff in the concourse and at the front of the portals. Tech’s message last week had said the Tech police department “will deploy law enforcement officers and security personnel in Lane Stadium to support a positive and safe fan experience.”
Senior vice president Brett Hickman of Rhino Sports & Entertainment Services, the company that provides Lane staff to Tech, directed students Saturday to other portals when one of the passageways kept getting crowded.
“There’s more police here making sure people get to their seats,” Tech junior Dillon Haberman said. “They definitely made it better.”
The Tech officials’ letter had asked students to immediately move to their seats in the east stands “to allow for all fans to take their seats safely and quickly.”
But Hickman said Saturday that some students upon emerging from the portal were clogging the portal by stopping to try to find their friends in the stands, rather than heading promptly up the stairs to empty seats.
Tech officials chastised students in last week’s letter.
“Over the last several weeks, we have heard too many stories of selfish, inappropriate and embarrassing student behavior at home football games,” the letter stated.
The letter did not spell out what type of behavior the officials were referring to.
But students throwing beer cans and bottles down at fans in the lower portions of the east stands has been an issue this season.
Tech senior Jonathan Parker said he saw a couple beer cans being thrown on Saturday.
“[At the Notre Dame game], it happened a lot more,” Parker said.
Maryland resident Richard Thomasson said he saw cans flying through the air at the Notre Dame game but did not see that on Saturday.
Law-enforcement officials and stadium personnel were present in the student section of the east stands Saturday.
At the Sept. 3 season opener, fans were irked when they found students sitting in seats reserved for the general public. Students had assumed their general-admission tickets enabled them to sit anywhere. Before the next game, Tech spelled out in a statement where students should sit in the east stands.
Fredericksburg resident Patty Sites said students sitting in the wrong seats is no longer an issue before the game, but it still happens during the game.
“After everybody’s seated, then they think they can just slide in those empty seats. They’ll come up [from] a different section and they’ll sit down,” Sites said. “If you ask them to move, sometimes they’ll be a little belligerent.
“Each week it gets better. This week they had [staff] … stationed up the steps instead of one person at the bottom, which is better.
“They had to come into our section and get them to move.”