Ten years ago, when 32 Hokies were killed on Virginia Tech’s campus, the community saw its legacy changing before its eyes. A school that prides itself on the core values of brotherhood, honor, leadership, sacrifice, service, loyalty, duty and Ut Prosim, which are symbolized on the pylons that thousands of Tech students walk past every day, was shaken.

As the camera crews flooded into Blacksburg, Frank Beamer, then-head coach of the Virginia Tech football team, knew the university would not be remembered for this tragedy, but instead for how the community responded. Within an hour of the shooting, Beamer was with his entire team.

“As soon as it happened, we wanted to get everyone together, make sure everyone was accounted for and okay so we could call parents and encourage them to call their parents if they hadn’t already talked to them,” Beamer said. “So everything was happening pretty quickly.”

By almost all accounts, Beamer played an integral part in the community’s healing process, most notably by visiting with survivors in the hospital, as well as the parents of the victims. For decades, he had been known as a winning football coach. Suddenly he was called upon to be much more.

Players celebrated with Head Coach Frank Beamer after defeating their in-state rival UVA 23-20, extending their win streak for the 12th straight year. ZACK WAJSGRAS / COLLEGIATE TIMES

“I think he played a big part in bringing the campus together. I thought he was a great university spokesman — he and Dr. Steger both — on how that shooting wouldn’t define the university,” said Bill Roth, longtime Virginia Tech broadcaster and current professor of practice at the university.

Appearing in scores of radio shows, news segments and press conferences — both because of his job and because of the shooting — Beamer made sure to spread a message of hope, one that let the country know Virginia Tech would not be remembered for the actions of a “sick individual.”

Despite the national attention Beamer and his team received in the aftermath of the shooting, it is the personal moments that Beamer remembers with the most clarity. 

Frank Beamer

Frank Beamer recalls an encounter with a grieving community member after the April 16 shootings.

“I’ll never forget John Ballein and I walking through campus, which we did every day, but particularly during that time. I just thought people needed to see someone they recognized, and put some normal situation back into this. But there was a girl, a sweet little girl over there, a student,” Beamer recalled, pointing to his right as if she were still sitting next to him, “and you could just tell she was deep in thought. When we walked over to her she was crying. We sat down and talked with her for a few minutes, and she needed that. She needed to be able to talk to someone that hopefully made her feel better and made her feel like things are going to be okay. And we are. We are going to get through this and we’re not going to let that sick guy defeat Virginia Tech.”

Sports, particularly the start of football season, brought a sense of normalcy back to campus. It served as a positive unifying event in a point in time where most unification took place in conjunction with solace.

“When we’re in that stadium — Lane Stadium over there — everyone’s going in the same direction: Our alumni, our students, our band, our hightechs, we all have the same purpose. We all have the same goal. We all want the same thing at the end of the day. Having said that, we all needed to be going in the same direction on this, and for the most part, I think we did as a university, and there’s no question about that,” Beamer said. “But I thought that was a time that people could come, have a cause and make sure we were all together working with each other for our common goal that particular day. I remember taking the field through the stadium and everybody jumping and I never — maybe I just imagined this — but I never felt like that before and it was something different than I had ever experienced.”

The sports world outside of Blacksburg took notice as well, sending an outpouring of support. With the Hokies canceling their spring game, colleges around the country including Penn State and Ohio State showed support at their own spring games, with the Buckeyes wearing VT helmets. Angels pitcher Joe Saunders, along with other MLB players, received special permission from the league to wear Virginia Tech hats and patches. Even NBA legend Allen Iverson, who is a Virginia Native, wore a patch with Tech’s logo on his arm sleeve for the remainder of the 2007 season.

“I think it really rings back that fact that there was a lot of people thinking about us, a lot of people that knew what a great campus Virginia Tech is,” Beamer said, “and that they wanted to let everybody know that they were thinking about us, and like I said, you really do appreciate it at that particular time.”

Among the sports figures and athletes paying tribute to Virginia Tech, one team especially stood out: the New York Yankees.

“We thought we were going to get the Columbus Clippers, but no, there was A-Rod and Jeter and Jorge Posada,” Roth said. “It was their regular team. And I remember visiting with Joe Girardi after the game and he was crying.”

On March 18, 2008, just inside a year of the shooting’s anniversary, the Yankees flew to Blacksburg for a scrimmage against the Hokie baseball team. New York’s manager Joe Girardi watched the game from the stands with Beamer as Alex Rodriguez, who exited the game in the fourth inning along with the rest of the stars, sat in the Hokies’ dugout to sign autographs and chat with the players.

In the the press conference following the Hokies scrimmage with the Bronx Bombers, Rodriguez said it was arguably the most important game he had played in a Yankees uniform. 

“There’s something special about that team. For them to fly in here, and to see how it impacted those guys, they helped bring us back together,” Roth said. “I mean, if you think about it, there are a lot of tragedies in this country, and that team came here, for free, to play our team. That doesn’t happen. It hasn’t happened before or since, for any pro sports team. And they did it for free.”

Frank Beamer reflects on the first home football game after the April 16 shootings.

Bill Roth

Bill Roth speaks to the importance of the first home football game after the April 16 shootings.

The Yankees were also one of many organizations who gave significant monetary donations to Virginia Tech and the victims’ families.

“And then the Yankees played the Red Sox and they gave the Hokies the gate. They said whatever ticket revenue we make for this game, we’re giving it to the survivor’s fund. It was over a million dollars. The Yankees are in a very unique financial situation that they’re able to do something like that. It was just to help our students and our alums heal, and sports played a big role in bringing everyone together.”

Communities are often remembered for the tragedies they suffer. Both Beamer and Roth believe that this has not been the case at Virginia Tech.

“What happened here didn’t define our university,” Roth said. “I can give you the name of three or four different places, where as soon as you hear it you think shooting and death. And this country doesn’t think that when it hears Virginia Tech anymore. You think of our school, sports teams and our academic programs and what our people are like.”

Sports did not make Virginia Tech forget its tragedy, however they did help in the healing process, growth and reinforcement of the core values that the Tech community is and has been known for.

“I just think that that’s something that Virginia Tech has like no other school. I think we’re the best in the country about caring, respecting, helping each other and a Hokie taking care of a Hokie,” Beamer said. 

“I don’t think anyone could beat us in that category.”

Bill Roth speaks to the unique nature of the Virginia Tech community.