With numbers boosted by a college marching band's tribute to a hometown hero, the football game between Lakeside and Evans high schools on Sept. 4 likely was the highest attendance ticketed event in Columbia County's history.
Nearly 5,000 tickets were sold to the matchup between the county rivals, which featured The Marching Virginians of Virginia Tech. Those figures don't include the nearly 700 band members, dozens of football players, cheerleaders and coaches from both teams, and numerous educators and volunteers who don't pay for entry into football games.
Extra bleachers were installed around the field, but weren't enough to accommodate the standing-room-only crowd.
The Virginia Tech band performed a special halftime show to honor Ryan Clark, a Lakeside graduate who was fatally shot while trying to help a classmate during the April 2007 shooting rampage at Virginia Tech. Clark, who played in Virginia Tech's and Lakeside's bands, was one of 32 people killed during the rampage.
"Over thirty-three years in this business, the visit to Augusta on Friday night was the most meaningful of my career," wrote Virginia Tech band director Dave McKee in an e-mail to Lakeside High principal Jeff Carney.
Carney said he had never seen a larger crowd for a Lakeside football game in his eight years as Lakeside's principal .
"We were simply overwhelmed by the community response to support the visit by the Marching Virginians to honor Ryan Clark," Carney said.
"The band members were so enthusiastic and appreciative of everything that our community had done for them. I addressed them at dinner and told them that they were considered as our extended family, with the common bond being Ryan Clark. I reiterated how important their visit was to our community and that, for one night, they would be treated like rock stars ... you could see their faces light up."
Lakeside High band member Andrew Paschall considered it a personal honor that he was performing with the same baritone horn used by Clark when he played with the Panthers' marching band.
"It definitely is a privilege for me to honor his legacy this way," said the 17-year-old senior, who pointed out that he, like Clark, is the band's baritone section leader. "He was such a great leader for this band and I want to follow in those footsteps."
Prior to the game's start, Lakeside's and Evans' bands took the field with The Marching Virginians to perform the national anthem.
"This crowd is amazing," said Columbia County schools Assistant Superintendent Robert Jarrell, who was band director at Lakeside when Clark was a student there, at Friday's game. "But Ryan was an amazing young man."
Clark's likeness was sold on T-shirts at the game, with proceeds to be used to fund a memorial scholarship in his honor. Clark's favorite quote by Indira Gandhi, "Be the change you want to see in the world," also was printed on the shirts.
Nearly all of the 700 T-shirts were sold and volunteers took up a collection to further contribute to the scholarship fund.
Patty Weatherman, a Virginia Tech alum who helped organize the fundraiser, said last week that she was unsure how much money was raised through the T-shirt sale and collection.
T-shirts still are available to order, Weatherman said. The shirts cost $15 and there is a $3 shipping charge. Those who want a T-shirt should e-mail Weatherman at email@example.com.
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