Virginia Tech sports fans are familiar with the posters handed out at sporting events, the souvenir mugs collected from concession stands, and the retired jersey banners hanging at Lane Stadium and Cassell Coliseum. What most Hokies don’t know is that the designs for these items were created by one of their own.
This graphic designer is Clark Ruhland.
Ruhland, a 2007 Virginia Tech communications graduate from nearby Blue Ridge, Va., Got his start in graphic design from a childhood video game he spent hours playing.
“There was an old NASCAR game called NASCAR Racing 2,” Ruhland said. “It was a simple game in the 90s, but there was a paint shop where you could paint your own racing cars. It was a simplified program built into the game. You could do logos and that sort of thing and I had fun with that. This is how I learned to do any type of graphic design.
What started out as an enjoyable hobby turned into something later to show off his Hokie pride. He has designed computer wallpapers with the football schedule for other fans, and continues to do so every year. While covering Virginia Tech Sports for The Collegiate Times and interning with the Roanoke Times and WDBJ-7 as a student, Ruhland made a number of connections that earned him his first major opportunity to graphic design with the Hokies.
In 2010, Brent DiGiacomo of the Marketing Department at Virginia Tech Athletics emailed Ruhland asking if he wanted to help create the baseball team’s poster and schedule. It was Ruhland’s first introduction to material design for the university.
“I said absolutely, I would love to learn how to do this,” Ruhland said. “The baseball team were really happy with the way it went. One thing leading to another, I made stadium cuts and posters for different sports teams. T-shirt designs like the Cassell Guard and the White Effect, I’ve been doing these for a while. You name the sport, I probably did the poster at one point.
“It was great not only to work on this stuff and collaborate with photographers like Dave Knachel, but also to see the designs printed and on the walls at PK or Sharkey or whatever. I’ll see a poster hanging on the wall and think, Hey, I did that. It’s pretty cool.
Now Ruhland does most of his freelance graphic design work with Virginia Tech Athletics equipment. He will create t-shirt designs, uniform mockups and logos. He’s even been creating posters for years that no one other than the members of the Hokies football team sees. These posters are hung in the dressing rooms on match day to display the color summary of socks, bracelets and other accessories that team members are required to wear.
“Clark is always one of the first people I talk to when design is involved,” said Erik Lewis, senior manager of equipment services. “He has such passion and knowledge of the sports history of Virginia Tech, and it really shows in his work. When I throw half-ideas, suggestions, or even very basic details at him, he can turn the bare minimum into a complete package and vision that best suits the project. I am incredibly grateful that he is always ready to help us and share his ideas and talents with us.
A design project always fills Ruhland with the greatest sense of pride.
When Frank Beamer announced his retirement in 2015, Virginia Tech Athletics asked Ruhland to create a commemorative logo.
“I grew up attending Tech football games, and I knew Frank Beamer’s impact on this region and this state is immense,” Ruhland said. “I’ve thought about using different Coach Beamer poses over the years. Everyone always remembers that moment when the Hokies beat Boston College in 1999 and everyone rushed to the field. He walked up to the drum major stand, threw his fist in the air, and shouted, “I want to see you in New Orleans!” I knew now was the time to use it.
All of Ruhland’s graphic design pieces can be found on his personal website, cruhland.com, which includes his famous Uniform Builder page, a section where fans can create over 8 million Virginia Tech football uniform suits.
“I like telling people to save time because you’re going to waste a lot of it making the uniform builder,” Ruhland said with a laugh.
Today Ruhland’s main job finds him as a communications specialist for the city of Salem. It’s a position he held for a decade, and one that was also made possible through the relationships he cultivated as a Virginia Tech student.
Ruhland began his internship at WDBJ-7 in 2005, impressing then-athletic director Mike Stevens.
“Back then, WDBJ had an inordinate number of talented reporters and photographers on staff,” said Stevens, a 1983 Virginia Tech communications graduate. “They all liked Clark because he was ready to learn and didn’t walk through the door pretending he already knew everything. The sports team gave Clark a lot of responsibility as we could tell he was serious about gleaning as much as he could in a short period of time.
“His internship was a huge success and he also worked for many years as a statistician for Friday Football Extra. While many people his age were engrossed in the social scene every Friday night, he knew that gaining valuable frontline experience would pay off right down the line. “
When Stevens left the broadcasting industry after 25 years to work as communications director for the city of Salem, he knew there was a man for the job when a position opened in the two-person department. .
Stevens called Ruhland to apply for the job and the rest is history.
“We work very well together in the creative process, and we both accept each other’s contributions with ease,” Stevens said. “I’m not going to say that we complete our sentences like some married couples do, but we’re pretty close. Clark’s strength is definitely as a graphic designer and most people think of me as a talker, but we see ourselves as jack-of-all-trades and masters of nothing. When only two of you are responsible for all of the city’s departments and the entire school division, you can’t afford to specialize too much.
A jack of all trades is the perfect description for Ruhland. Beyond his graphic design work for Virginia Tech and his service in municipal government, he was also NASCAR’s senior observer on NBC for several years before COVID-19 took the role away from him.
Through it all, Ruhland enjoys giving back to the community around him, be it Virginia Tech, Salem or the NASCAR community. It is the joy of all these experiences that completes a Renaissance man like Ruhland.
“It’s all about relationships,” Ruhland said. “Always try to help different people with different things. It’s just my nature. I love helping people. Not only that, but seeing people enjoying what I do is worth it.”
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