As a boy growing up in Charlottesville, Virginia, Will Stewart could never have imagined rooting against his hometown’s collegiate teams. Once he reached his teen years, though, whenever the Cavaliers battled the Hokies, the colors he bled were maroon and orange.
The founder of TechSideline.com, a website devoted to Virginia Tech athletics, Stewart is once again rooting for the university, but this time for its winning academics.
Through Tech Sideline, Stewart has pledged $100,000 over the next five years to create an endowed scholarship in the Virginia Tech Department of Communication. The scholarship will support students in the department’s sports media and analytics program.
Stewart’s own path to sports journalism was circuitous. After earning his electrical engineering degree from Virginia Tech in 1987, Stewart worked as an engineer in Charlottesville for seven years. Upon relocating to Radford, Virginia, he worked as a computer programmer for an additional five years.
It was then, Stewart said, that “the internet was really becoming a thing.” He taught himself web coding and decided to start a blog. At first, he struggled with choosing a topic.
“I’m a simple guy with few interests,” he said. “But then I realized I could write about my real passions — Virginia Tech football and basketball!”
So he launched a modest website about Hokie sports, with just a few posts a week. He had no expectation of an audience, but the website’s visitor counter started ticking upward. His breakthrough came, he said, when sports announcer Bill Roth, the longtime and legendary Voice of the Hokies, agreed to an interview. The number of visitors began climbing dramatically.
In 1997, the site evolved into HokieCentral.com, and two years later, joined the SportsWar network of college sports websites. In 2000, Stewart renamed the site Tech Sideline and dubbed it “the premier unofficial Virginia Tech sports website.”
Tech Sideline, now a credentialed sports media outlet covering every Virginia Tech home football and basketball game, as well as some road games, averages 125,000 monthly visitors and has thousands of subscribers. Stewart serves as its general manager, as well as president of its parent company, SportsWar. He and managing editor Chris Coleman, who earned a history degree from Virginia Tech in 2005, write most of the content for the site, supplemented by the work of freelance writers and student interns.
It was while working with those young writers that Stewart first thought of supporting Virginia Tech students.
“I’ve been impressed with both the talent and passion of the students, who are just rock stars,” he said. “And I’m thrilled that Bill Roth is providing the mentorship they need to become the next great sports journalists.”
Roth, who gave radio play-by-play for Virginia Tech football and men’s basketball for 27 years, joined the Department of Communication in 2016 as a professor of practice. Under his leadership, sports media and analytics has since become an official concentration within the multimedia journalism major.
“I was driving when Will told me he wanted to fund a scholarship for our sports media students,” Roth said. “I nearly drove off the road. What an amazing idea! And now the scholarship will help us recruit and retain students with the greatest promise.”
Stewart’s generosity — made possible, he said, by “the great community of Hokie fans” — will also provide a lasting source of support for students.
“When Will Stewart was pondering a permanent legacy at Virginia Tech, it seemed natural to partner with our sports media and analytics program,” said Robert Denton, head of the department. “We’re so grateful for his support, and we’re delighted that his donation — one of the largest our department has ever received — will benefit students in this terrific program. His generosity is also a tribute to Bill Roth, who has accomplished so much in so little time.”
More than 6,000 Virginia Tech graduates hold degrees from the award-winning Department of Communication, which offers majors in multimedia journalism, public relations, and communication studies. Yet it’s the next generation of Hokie journalists — and the chance to invest in their futures — that Stewart finds most inspiring.
“This scholarship means so much to me because I realized, this is how I can give back,” said Stewart. “In the context of what I do every day, I can give back.”