The Virginia Tech tragedy has consumed me, exhausted me emotionally to a degree I hadn't felt since I lost my mom eight years ago. Katrina was awful; 9/11, too. But for me this is worse. This hits home, most literally.
I grew up in Pearisburg, 15 miles from campus. My dad is an alumnus. My sister got her master's degree there. I attended Radford University, 8 miles down the highway. Back home we love God, family and football. Good players at the high-school level are celebrities. Great players get free Blizzards at the Dairy Queen, free haircuts at the barber shop.
It's that kind of area.
The Hokies, though, are an identity.
They're the working-man's outfit. And Blacksburg is the working-man's region. Farms flank campus, the entire periphery home to dairies and good ol' boys in Carhartt overalls. There is overt pride in that.
There are no professional sports teams in the commonwealth. We have the Hokies, 'Highs and 'Hoos. And the contrast in fan base is stark.
In recent years, Virginia Tech football has bolstered the region greatly -- emotionally and financially. The team's rise to prominence planted Blacksburg in the national consciousness. Praised for its beauty and warmth, Blacksburg was on the map for all the right reasons -- conference championships, Bowl Championship Series appearances, great coaches and kids, elite academia.
That has changed now. Monday's campus massacre made Virginia Tech the epicenter of news internationally. One man's fury left 33 dead and a campus, region, state and nation in trembling disbelief.
Many folks in the NASCAR community are Hokies. Crew members, team and track executives, NASCAR and Sprint/Nextel folks. Everyone is sick, bewildered that such a heinous act could possibly have occurred in such a wholesome setting.
Some of my lifelong friends are employed by the school. Matter of fact, it's one of the primary employers in the region. Several others work in local law enforcement. They're working their tails off, frustrated by media coverage condemning authorities and school administration for failing to lock down campus immediately. They're engaged around the clock, trying to make sense of the senseless.
So I ask this: Before you question those folks, think about those kids and their families. Pray that God might heal empty souls and ease troubled minds. That's what's important.
A few weeks back at Martinsville, the folks at Anheuser-Busch gave me a gift, one of the coolest gifts I've ever been given -- an authentic Virginia Tech football helmet, autographed by one of my heroes, coach Frank Beamer. I eased around the garage, showed it to everyone I saw, bragged, proud as a peacock.
Since that day it has rested prominently in my home office, proudly.
But somehow never this proudly.
I just wanted to ask for continued prayer support for Virginia Tech and the Blacksburg community after the horrible events that happened Monday. As a student who was in class while the shootings were taking place, it sure puts things in perspective.
Unfortunately, the thrilling finish to [Sunday's] race at Texas isn't the most important topic of conservation between me and my friends today. I know you're Giles County proud, Marty, so you know what a small and peaceful town Blacksburg is, located in beautiful rural Virginia.
This seems like the last place on earth that something like this could happen. As a proud NASCAR fan, I know what a tight-knit and compassionate community NASCAR fans have created, so I ask the NASCAR community for their continued prayers for the Blacksburg community and I want to thank everyone for their prayers this past week.
Prayers have surely been felt and have been comforting to everyone here at Virginia Tech. Thank you for your time, Marty. God bless.
-- Daniel, Blacksburg, Va.
We are all thinking of you and praying for the school, its students, administration and police force, Daniel. NASCAR Nextel Cup and Busch Series teams will run VT logos on their race cars for the next three weeks, and Richmond International Raceway will paint a school logo on the infield grass in tribute.
I must admit I do not typically follow NASCAR, but I saw your interview on ESPN.com, and I just have to tell you how appreciative I am of your words. At a time when doubts prevail and my beloved school is at the mercy of harsh journalists, it is so relieving to hear of those who are concerned about the important things.
I actually paused the video to get down your comments about Blacksburg; I'm a senior now, and though I personally have only lived in the area for four years, my mother was raised here, and Blacksburg IS a home to me.
We as a student body are very appreciate of the positive reports that show how strong we are, and how ready we are to do anything we can for the victims in this terrible tragedy.
Though I was blessed not to be in Norris Hall that particular day, I do attend class there and did lose a history classmate in the shooting. It is impossible to express the horror that we are struggling through, and our cherished community is shattered.
I know I can speak for many when I say how thankful I am for the outpouring of support from around the world. Again, I just wanted to thank you for your comments, and your direction of respect. As strong as we may stand together, we strongly desire the help of the media and the world around us.
One thing folks can do is donate to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. Go to http://www.vt.edu/tragedy/memorial_fund.php to donate. Every cent is appreciated, and will go toward funding grief counseling, memorials, communication expenses, comfort expenses and incidental needs.
The article about Darian Grubb, Brian Whitesell and Caleb Hurd was great. Thank you for taking the time to get their perspective on the tragedy at Virginia Tech. I am a 1993 graduate of Virginia Tech. My brother graduated from Tech in 2003 and my sister graduated from Radford in 2001.
My brother and I stayed in Christiansburg for the recent Martinsville race. We were guests of Hendrick Motorsports and had Hot Passes the next day. The night before the race, we made a point of driving around the campus. Is there a better place on earth than Blacksburg?
I have football season tickets and go to all of the home games. I spend a lot of time in Blacksburg. I think it is hard for people from other places to understand what kind of a town Blacksburg is. When I walk around campus, day or night, I never fear for my safety.
The people are all very friendly and down-to-earth (a lot like coach Beamer). To think of something like this happening in Blacksburg is incomprehensible. I only hope that Hokie Nation will grow closer and stronger from this, and not allow this isolated incident to ruin one of the most wonderful places in the world.
Thank you again. "Let's go Hokies!"
Indeed, Nick, Blacksburg, and the entire New River Valley, to me, is the very definition of comfortable. It is what is just and right, and I simply cannot grasp that something so heinous could happen there.
I saw you talking on ESPN tonight about NASCAR and the tragedy at VT. I went to VT for four years and worked for the VT radio station WUVT before studying at RU under media studies.
First off I want to thank you for your comments about the Hokies and the strength of the students. Most people we've been seeing on TV seem to be pushing an agenda and are clueless to the local situation. It was a breath of fresh air to hear a "local" perspective on national TV.
You mentioned you grew up 10 minutes from Tech. I grew up in Christiansburg, so it's weird having this hit so close to home. I attend church on campus at VT (NLCF), my girlfriend is an RA on campus, and I still live in the area while attending Radford, so the last few days have been heavy. Hope everyone you know is OK.
Anyway, just wanted to give my appreciation for your thoughts on the air tonight.
Indeed, everyone I know personally is OK.
One young man, though, Jarrett Lane, was from Narrows, Va. That is another neighboring town, in the same county from which I hail, a couple miles down the street. I read that he was a Christian, a high school athlete and a great friend.
So, so sad.
This tragedy will live on for decades, but it will not define Virginia Tech -- the students and faculty and support that rises above and perseveres will.
Marty Smith is a contributor to ESPN's NASCAR coverage. He can be reached at ESPNsider@aol.com.