These ‘4th-Siders’ Have Been Lending Their X-Ray Vision to the Football Team for Years

These ‘4th-Siders’ Have Been Lending Their X-Ray Vision to the Football Team for Years

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As many University of Virginia football fans know by now, the “4th Side” is a concept that refers to members of the team who are not playing in the game, but who bring heightened excitement and energy to the sidelines every play. Fans – and especially the UVA student section – can serve in the same role, pumping up the team, filling the stadium with cheers and even changing the outcome of the game with their support.

Coworkers Samantha Shoemaker and Taylor Burton take their role as 4th Side members seriously. They were especially active last season, when most other fans couldn’t come to the games due to the pandemic and the team needed as much encouragement as possible.

You see, Shoemaker and Burton take their support a step further. While many Hoos in the stands are exchanging high-fives or singing the “Good Old Song” after a touchdown, Shoemaker and Burton are often in the bowels of Scott Stadium, tending to injured players. For the last nine and five years, respectively, Shoemaker and Burton – who work as diagnostic radiologic technologists in UVA’s Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging – have volunteered to take X-rays for every UVA home football game.

“Most people wonder why we volunteer our time, since we are often away from our families and miss functions and other events to be there with the team,” Shoemaker said. “They ask, ‘Why do it?’

“My answer every time is that we get to take part in the care of our athletes and be part of the team that gets them back in the game. We get to combine our passion for sports and our jobs to be a part of something bigger. It is definitely worth it.”

Shoemaker and Burton are usually among the first people to arrive at the stadium and the last to leave.

A lifelong UVA fan, Shoemaker grew up in Broadway, Virginia, before attending Blue Ridge Community College and the Rockingham Memorial School of Radiologic Technology, graduating in 2006.

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She was inspired to go into the field by her aunt, a radiology technologist who had studied nuclear medicine at UVA’s School of Medicine.

“She always seemed passionate about her job and helping people, which is why I was so drawn to the medical field,” Shoemaker said. “Imaging is a huge part of a patient’s diagnosis, treatment plan and guidance for intraoperative and other treatment. I love being part of the team that helps put patients – and athletes – back to doing what they love and with their families.”

The Department of Radiology and Medical Imaging has been providing services to UVA Athletics for home football games since 2009, and in 2012, Shoemaker was asked if she had any interest in helping out.

“Being the huge fan that I am, I jumped at the opportunity of not only being part of the team, but volunteering my time,” she said.

Burton, an Augusta County native who graduated from Piedmont Virginia Community College’s radiography program in 2017 – and who had done most of her clinical training at UVA – subsequently joined Shoemaker.

“I loved attending the games and thought it was a good chance to see a different side of radiology while giving back to the community,” Burton said.

Shoemaker and Burton said the experience of working and cheering on the Hoos simultaneously is sometimes a tough balancing act.

On game days, Samantha Shoemaker, right, and Taylor Burton, work in a small room in the bowels of Scott Stadium. (Photo by Jaimee Council)

“Of course, we are there to cheer on the team, but our focus extends beyond that,” Shoemaker said. “We pay close attention to players that are down, the athletic trainers and team physicians.

“We try to interpret the injury on the field to see if it’s muscular cramping or a possible more serious injury that will require our services. There are times we miss big plays, but in those times, taking care of our athletes takes precedence over my love for the game.”

Inside a small room underneath the stadium, Shoemaker and Burton use a portable X-ray machine to take images that will help determine whether it is OK for a player to return to the game.

The duo often assists trainers in the removal of uniforms, tape, braces and other pieces of equipment from players’ bodies.

Shoemaker and Burton make sure that players are positioned correctly for imaging the part of the body that needs to be examined, and they operate the machine to take the required images as accurately as possible. These images are then immediately available to the team doctors.

“Our main focus is speed and efficiency,” Burton said. “The players always want to be back out on the field as soon as possible. Nothing is worse than being the first person to see the images pop up on the screen and noticing an obvious injury. It feels terrible to be part of the team that is the bearer of bad news.”

But Burton said it’s special to see the way head coach Bronco Mendenhall’s players respond to whatever the circumstances may be.

“Even in times of great pain or after receiving terrible news that could end their season, they are polite and respectful,” Burton said. “You can see how much they love the game and how loyal they are to their teammates. I can’t tell you how many times a player has found out that they are injured and the first question is, ‘What’s the score of the game? Are we winning?’”

“To see the support and encouragement they still provide to their team on the sidelines is amazing,” Shoemaker added.

This is what is at the heart of being a 4th Side member, and also what made last season so challenging, according to Shoemaker.

“Without all of the 4th Side there, you could say there was some extra pressure to be loud and show support,” she said.

“It was a strange feeling to be there,” Burton added. “We were used to the sounds and sights of Scott Stadium, and it was sad to see it so empty. However, volunteering for the games helped us maintain a sense of normalcy through the fall, and for that I am grateful. And UVA Sports Medicine staff did an amazing job ensuring that every participant remained safe.” 

This season, Shoemaker and Burton are thrilled to see the fans back in larger numbers.

“There is nothing like a packed stadium,” Shoemaker said, “and hearing the roaring of the fans and the echo of that ‘Good Old Song’ in unison.”

Even if, on some occasions, you can only hear it from a distance.

 

Editor's note: The photographs in this article were taken before the COVID-19 pandemic.

Media Contact

Whitelaw Reid

University News Senior Associate Office of University Communications