Nobody’s quite sure what to expect when the Miami University football players don the Red and White for Friday’s annual spring scrimmage. On the one hand, injuries have continued to decimate a team still smarting from its 2-10 campaign of 2006, but on the other hand, the RedHawks return the core of the fastest team in the MAC.
The question of whether they’re reeling or ready will soon be answered.
No such questions exist for the football team of Virginia Tech. Led by one of the nation’s elite defenses, the Hokies stand as the overwhelming favorite to win the ACC next season.
Thousands of fans were expected to pack Lane Stadium for Saturday’s spring game in anticipation of a banner season in Blacksburg, Va. But, because of a cascade of bullets that ripped through the heart of the Hokie nation, no such game will be played.
Shouts of “Hokie Hokie Hokie High!” have been replaced by the tearful hysteria of a campus coming to grips with the fact that their lives will never be the same.
When looking back at my college career, the one constant I could always count on was change. Midway through my first year, I was assigned a new roommate. I’ve switched my major. I’ve fallen in love and have had my heart broken. I’ve been praised for my writing and have received hate mail.
Nowhere has the concept of change been more pervasive than in the world of sports.
As a wide-eyed first-year in 2002, I was among the tens of thousands in the Yager Stadium bleachers as Miami was just a few minutes shy of toppling an Iowa team that would go undefeated in Big Ten play. Two years ago, I was one of just a couple hundred to witness Bowling Green pound the RedHawks in a 42-14 romp in tornado-like conditions. I’ve seen the North Dakota hockey team shut Miami out in the opening game of 2005, only to watch Miami climb to No. 1 in the polls later that season. There was the nostalgic farewell to Goggin, the groundbreaking of the Steve Cady Arena and hard times on the hardwood followed by Doug Penno’s heroism.
In sports and in life, hope springs eternal.
So what do you say to a Virginia Tech community whose indelible image of college is that of their classmates, friends, professors and lovers senselessly slaughtered? How does a mother cope with seeing her son’s farewell to Blacksburg be in a body bag instead of on a graduation podium? The sad truth is that for the grieving Hokie family, there’s no salve for their wound.
Even with all the advancements in medical science, there’s no painkiller for this kind of hurt – no stadium construction, buzzer-beater or championship ring that will ever change the reality of those dealing with premature death.
What these men and women can do is remind themselves that to make the most of every moment as the universal healing power of time runs its course.
A similar lesson applies to everyone, everywhere. For those of us biding our final days in Oxford, let’s not bemoan our imminent departure, but rather celebrate our journey. For those continuing your collegiate experience, make plans for making the most of your time here.
And this is where the beauty of sport lies for everybody. For the majority of us, our life’s course won’t be affected by athletics. It won’t give us a raise or get us fired, won’t find us happiness or despair in romance, nor will it ease the agony from the families of Virginia Tech and others coping with tragedy.
What it can do, however, is provide us with a needed respite from the constant grind of life. When the Hokie football team storms the field Sept. 1 for its season-opening clash with Eastern Carolina, nobody will forget the massacre that afflicted their campus months earlier. But, for a three-hour stretch on a Saturday afternoon, they can turn their attention away from grief, schoolwork and jobs, and onto the raucous adulation that transpires on the field.
As Tom Cochran’s song reminds us, “Life is a highway,” and as sports remind us, there are many rest stops along the way.