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Official Review by Jason Bullock, Stadium Journey Regional Correspondent
Surrounded by the greyish-green buildings on the campus of Virginia Military Institute in Lexington, Virginia, you will find the home of the Keydets football team. Built in 1962, Alumni Memorial Field hosted two games that year, with the home team winning both, and the Keydets finished with a 6-4 record, winning a Southern Conference title.
Though they departed for the Big South Conference -- only to eventually return to the Southern Confernce -- VMI has not had a winning season since 1981. In 2006, the stadium was renovated and was named after Wes Foster (‘56), who served on the Board of Governors of VMI and was developer of Long & Foster Realty.
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There are three concession stands located at Foster Stadium, but you will not find much variety here. Hot dogs ($2.75) and pizza slices ($3) are your main dishes, and you can purchase a bag of chips, candy or a soft pretzel as a side. Bottled Pepsi products are available for $2 each. Signs state cash only, so be prepared if you decide to eat at the game. No outside food or drinks are allowed in the stadium, so if these offerings are not to your liking, it may be best to eat before you come.
A VMI football game really starts with the parade of cadets three hours before kickoff on the parade grounds west of the stadium. While I was not able to attend the parade, I spoke to other fans who said they consider it part of the gameday festivities. 20 minutes before kickoff, the cadets march onto the field and form two lines in an L-shape that the players run between as they enter the field, which is a great way to get the whole student body involved in the game. If possible, plan on making these events part of your gameday experience.
Most fans enter through the main gate at the southwest corner of the stadium. If you are looking for the will-call booth, you will need to go to Cameron Hall south of the stadium to pick up your tickets. Home side seating is on the other side of the stadium after you enter. Most of the seats in the lower part of the stands are reserved for cadets or alumni, so you will have a little bit of a climb to your seats. The stands are at a high pitch, so it's a nice climb getting to the seats that are located toward the top of the grandstand. However, the view of the stadium and surrounding buildings is worth it and recommended. There are visitor stands on the west side of the stadium that are easily accessible, and while they give you a nice view of the cadets in the student section on the home side, the sight lines are not very good to see the plays on the field, as the seats sit pretty low. Like many college stadiums, there is a track that separates the field from the stands, so even the lower rows are not that close to the action.
When the Keydets score you will notice two things happen - a large cannon shot in the east end zone will alert the entire town of the score (it's that loud), and all of the 'rats' file out of the stands to do pushups on the track behind the end zone for each point the home team has scored. What is a rat? A rat is a freshman cadet, and this is part of tradition at VMI home games, even though sometimes the upperclassmen will join them for this exercise to celebrate the score.
There is a scoreboard located in the east end zone, and it is visible from any seat in the stadium. It has all of the basic stats, along with live and replay video during the game. The public address announcer is loud and clear enough to be heard throughout the stadium and does a good job of keeping fans informed of the key game information.
Foster Stadium is located on the south side of campus, just north of downtown. If time permits, there is a VMI Museum right across US 11 that contains a lot of interesting artifacts from a school that has been in existence for over 170 years that is worth a look. As you drive (or walk) into downtown, you will find narrow sidewalks and a lot of little shops and cafes; unfortunately, many of them are closed on Saturday.
If you are visiting the Lexington area, there is a nice Hampton Inn close to the stadium that will meet your lodging needs. Located in the Blue Ridge Mountains, there are plenty of activities close by for those that like the outdoors. Visit lexingtonvirginia.com for a comprehensive list of what to do and where.
One thing that is unique about attending a VMI game is that all enrolled cadets are required to attend each home contest. This equates to about 1,500 students cheering the Keydets from their seats between the 20s behind the home bench. Cadets are required to stay for the whole game, and while I noticed most of them stay together in their seating area during the first half, many of them disperse to other sections of the stands later in the game to visit with family and friends and conversations turn to things other than football. It wasn't a big deal for me, but if you are a fan that wants to concentrate on the game at hand, you may find this a little distracting.
VMI football is a big deal in Lexington, and you will find the team well supported at a typical home game by students, alumni and local fans. While I didn't notice the fans perform any unique chants or cheers, they are passionate about their team and stay involved in the game all the way to the end.
Foster Stadium is easy enough to get to, located on US Highway 11, right off of I-64. The campus is located right before you enter the downtown area of Lexington, and parking can be tricky if you do not get there early. There is limited parking on the parade ground for $10, and this area opens at 7:30 am on gamedays, which is perfect if you plan on getting there early for the pre-game parade and marchdown. If you are just coming for the game, you will find US 11 jammed with cars, as parking is first-come, first-served on the street. My recommendation is to drive into downtown and utilize the free parking garage off of Washington Street downtown. It's about a 15-minute walk to the stadium, but it gives you a little tour of what downtown Lexington has to offer, and it is easy getting back out on to the main highway from there. Lastly, there is a free shuttle located at the Lowe's north of downtown on US 11 that runs from 9:00 am until an hour after the end of the game.
Restrooms are located at in the southwest (main gate area) and northeast corner of the stadium, and are sufficient for the crowd size. For those needing accessible seating, there is plenty available on the visiting side of the stadium.
I found a day at Foster Stadium to be a good value for my dollar. A General Admission ticket is $17, and although there is not a large variety of food offerings, pricing is very fair. Combine that with free parking being available and the pre-game traditions, and you have a good day of entertainment for a relatively small investment.
Parade, pre-game marchdown, pushups - VMI does a lot to keep all cadets involved in gameday, which is worth noting here.
Foster Stadium is not going to overwhelm you with a lot of modern amenities, but the overall atmosphere and engagement of the entire student body make it a unique place to catch a game on a fall afternoon.
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