History[edit | edit source]
Victory Stadium was constructed in 1942. The name was meant to be a rallying cry for Allied victory in World War II. The stadium seated approximately 25,000, which made it the largest football stadium in Virginia when it opened, and regularly hosted games with large crowds during the first decades of its existence. Most famously, Victory Stadium hosted an annual Thanksgiving Day game between Virginia Military Institute, or VMI, and Virginia Tech, then known as VPI, until 1969. The game was part of a day of festivities which included a parade from downtown Roanoke to the stadium. From 1958 to 1969, Victory Stadium also hosted an annual game, typically featuring VPI, known as the Harvest Bowl. From 1946 to 1950, the South's Oldest Rivalry between the University of Virginia and the University of North Carolina was held at the stadium. Roanoke's now closed Jefferson High School attracted large crowds in the 1950s and 1960s and won the state championship in 1957. In 1971, Victory Stadium hosted the Virginia High School League Group AAA state football championship in which T. C. Williams High School of Alexandria, Virginia defeated Andrew Lewis High School of Salem, Virginia 27-0. T.C. Williams' season was depicted in the 2000 film Remember the Titans although Andrew Lewis was replaced with another team in the film's championship game. In 1973, Roanoke's Patrick Henry High School won the Group AAA state football championship, defeating T.C. Williams, 9-0, at Victory Stadium in a semifinal match. In 1996, Victory Stadium hosted the Group AA, Division 4 state football championship in which Salem High School defeated Sherando High School of Stephens City, Virginia 20-12. In 2004, Roanoke's William Fleming High School defeated Magna Vista High School of Henry County 13-8 in a Group AA, Division 4 state football semi-final at Victory Stadium en route to a state runner-up season.
From the 1970s through 2005, Victory Stadium primarily served as the home football field for Roanoke's two high schools, Patrick Henry and William Fleming. Other special events were held at the stadium such as an annual 4th of July concert and a Dave Matthews Band concert in 1998 which attracted the largest crowd in Victory Stadium's history. Franklin County Speedway owner Donald "Whitey" Taylor staged several stock car races in the stadium in 1991 and 1992; races had also been run during the 1950s and 1960s. The stadium's location next to the Roanoke River resulted in the field being flooded several times. The last serious flood occurred in the fall of 2004 and forced many home football games that season to be moved to other schools. Concerns about the stadium's structural integrity caused engineers to close off upper levels to fans in 2005. All home football games for the 2006 season were scheduled to be played at other schools in the Roanoke area before the stadium's fate was decided. The final game played at Victory Stadium was a 42-16 William Fleming victory over Alleghany High School.
Controversy[edit | edit source]
The future of Victory Stadium was on the city of Roanoke's agenda from the early 1990s until 2006. Some residents favored the stadium's replacement with another facility or facilities to provide home football fields for the city's high schools and to provide a venue for outdoor concerts and events. Arguments in favor of this alternative were that the stadium was far too large for high school football games, which rarely drew more than a few thousand spectators after the early 1970s, and was ill-suited for concerts. The site had few parking spaces and is vulnerable to flooding, which necessitated costly clean-ups and repairs. Proponents of the stadium's renovation cited the stadium's contributions to the city's history. They also argued that a venue of Victory Stadium's capacity was a relatively rare asset for a city the size of Roanoke, which does not have a major university, and could regularly have drawn large events, such as the Dave Matthews concert, with aggressive and creative marketing. Other alternative events suggested were hosting a biannual football game between VMI and The Citadel and hosting gravity games. Some also alleged that the city wants to transfer the property to Carilion, a Roanoke based company which operates nearby Roanoke Memorial Hospital and is also establishing a biomedical institute and small medical school in the area. Both sides promoted their alternative as being more cost effective.
The matter was controversial in part because debate about the stadium often widened in broader disagreement about economic growth or the lack thereof, the preservation of historic structures, and the resistance to or acceptance of change in general. A generational divide between older Roanokers who remembered when the stadium was filled on a regular basis and younger ones whose experience was only with occasional large crowds for special events and small crowds for high school football games provided another dimension to the disagreement. In the early 2000s, Roanoke's city manager Darlene Burcham supported a proposal to build a hybrid stadium near the Roanoke Civic Center which would have served both as a football stadium and a concert venue. Ground was broken before supporters of Victory Stadium's renovation persuaded Roanoke's city council to halt the project. Momentum appeared to shift towards a renovation until the 2004 flood resulted in an increase in support for replacement. In 2005, a proposal emerged to build small stadiums on the campuses of the two high schools. Whether or where an amphitheatre for concerts would be constructed was not specifically addressed. This proposal met generally positive receptions, although some residents who live near Patrick Henry High School opposed the construction of a stadium there because of concerns about traffic and other disruptions.
Demolition[edit | edit source]
The question of what to do with Victory Stadium was by most accounts the foremost issue in Roanoke's May 2, 2006, municipal election. A slate of three Democrats, running on an independent ticket dubbed "For the City" against the nominees of the Democratic and Republican parties, won seats on Roanoke's city council in the 2006 election. This slate supported the two stadiums proposal, which also had the support of Roanoke's mayor Nelson Harris. Supporters of Victory Stadium's renovation pointed out that the other candidates for council received more votes in total.
The election rapidly set in motion the process of demolishing the stadium even before the "For the City" slate, which included two non-incumbents, was sworn in on July 1. On May 15, 2006, Roanoke's city council voted 5-2 to begin the search for a firm to demolish Victory Stadium. In late May, the city accepted a low bid of $486,714, well within the city's $1.2 million budget allocation, from S.B. Cox, Inc., of Richmond, Virginia to tear down the stadium. On May 31, 2006, a citizen's group opposed to the stadium's demolition dropped its lawsuit against the city. The basis for the suit had been that the Norfolk and Western Railroad stipulated in its deed transferring the land to the city that a stadium be built and maintained on the site. Norfolk Southern Railway released the city from this requirement. However, a separate lawsuit by one other citizen remained pending. Nonetheless, demolition began on Monday, June 26, 2006 at 7:30 am. Heavy rains resulted in minor flooding at the site on June 27. Demolition of the stadium was completed on July 5.
Several thousand bricks were saved from the stadium's facades. The remaining debris was transported to a landfill, except for the steel rebar which was recycled. The city made the bricks available on July 8 and July 13. The distribution on July 8 was limited to city residents who drove to the distribution center near the stadium. Each car could take up to four bricks; pedestrians were not allowed in the line. Traffic backed up about one mile from the distribution center. The remaining bricks were distributed on July 13. City residents again received first preference, but non-residents were allowed in the line. After the experience of July 8, the distribution process was much smoother on July 13. However, that night, some persons broke into the demolition site and removed other bricks that had not been designated for the distribution. Within a few days, at least one brick was placed for sale on eBay; bricks have also been sold on Craigslist and at yard sales. Many Roanokers have had their bricks engraved to commemorate the stadium. Some bricks have also been set aside for a stadium memorial.
The site of Victory Stadium now has several athletic fields, which has added fields to those at the nearby River's Edge sports complex. However, the city council voted in June 2007 to build an amphitheatre on the site.
New stadia[edit | edit source]
Patriot Stadium opened on the campus of Patrick Henry High School for the 2007 season. The field was dedicated to former coach Merrill Gainer, who led the team to its 1973 state championship. Both Patrick Henry and William Fleming used Patriot Stadium as their home field for the 2007 and 2008 seasons; William Fleming's on-campus stadium is scheduled for completion for the 2009 season. Ticket sales at Patriot Stadium are limited to 3,000 as a concession to neighbors' concerns about traffic.
[edit | edit source]
- Article about the annual VMI-VPI Thanksgiving Day game and festivities
- Roanoke Times special section on Victory Stadium