When the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets and the Highty-Tighties march into Bristol Motor Speedway on Saturday, the experience will be about more than just cheering on the Hokies during a nationally televised and potentially record-breaking game.
Cadets will learn valuable leadership skills as they help plan and coordinate an operation to get some 1,100 of their classmates plus Skipper, the Corps of Cadets cannon, from Blacksburg to Tennessee and back again.
“They’re not going just to be spectators,” said Maj. Gen. Randal Fullhart, commandant of cadets. “This is a true leadership development event as they prepare the corps to make this trip.”
It will take 21 buses with 54 seats each to make the trip, all made possible by the support of corps alumni and friends.
Skipper will make what is believed to be its first journey outside state lines in a trailer donated by corps alumnus J. Pearson, the namesake of Pearson Hall who earned his bachelor's in agricultural and applied economics in 1987 from the College of Agriculture and Life Sciences. Skipper and its cadet crew will be on the track throughout the game and fire during the National Anthem, whenever the Hokies score, and at the game’s end.
Cadet Christopher Hintz, of Sterling, Virginia, a senior majoring in business information technology in the Pamplin College of Business and minoring in leadership studies with the corps’ Rice Center for Leader Development, has a key role to support the planning process. He is the chief operations officer for the cadet leadership.
Hintz, the recipient of a corps Emerging Leader Scholarship, said the experience will be invaluable as he prepares to commission into the U.S. Marines after graduation.
“There’s not a lot of opportunity to work with large-scale movement before you commission, so this will be challenging and exciting to accomplish,” he said.
The Highty-Tighties are scheduled to lead the football team during the traditional Hokie Walk at about 5:45 p.m. as the Hokies enter the speedway. The band will then join the entire regiment to march around the track at about 6:30 p.m.
Army ROTC students from Virginia Tech and Radford University, as well as members of the University of Tennessee’s Army ROTC unit, are each conducting a 134-mile relay run with the "battle ball" in the days leading up to the game. Representatives of each will deliver the ball to their football teams’ captains on the field before the coin toss. The relay is in celebration of this year’s 100th anniversary of the Army ROTC program.
A joint color guard — made up of seven members of the Corps of Cadets’ color guard and seven from the Tennessee Army ROTC’s color guard — will carry the flags onto the field.
The game will be played on the infield of the speedway, where NASCAR racing teams and their haulers reside, and could draw a record crowd for a college football game. Kickoff is scheduled for 8 p.m., and the game will be broadcast on ABC.
The speedway, which ranks as the fourth-largest sports venue in America, according to Wikipedia, has enough seats for approximately 160,000 people. The current attendance record for a college football game is 115,109 set in 2013 when Notre Dame and Michigan played in Ann Arbor, Mich.