A friend of my wife’s recently commented, “We’ve got to take you shopping for some new clothes in different colors.”
It’s not that Gerri doesn’t have a nice wardrobe. But, particularly during football season and the yearend bowl mania, she tends to favor maroon and orange. A lot of that distinctive two-color attire has a “VT” and/or the word “Hokies” emblazoned somewhere on it.
Ironically, she didn’t go to Virginia Tech; I did. When we were first married, she had little interest in Hokie sports. In fact, she said she didn’t like football much at all.
Somewhere along the line, though, that all changed. Part of it, I guess, was the excitement of having a good team to root for. Part of it may have been the fun of traveling to places like New Orleans and Jacksonville on the excuse of going to cheer on the team at a bowl game. Maybe she just likes that unique maroon and orange color combination. Whatever the catalyst, she is now a card-carrying member of Hokie Nation, and it is she, not I, who gets most worked up watching the boys of autumn on television or in person.
Don’t get me wrong: I, too, have my share of maroon and orange. Whether paddling around in my comfy Hokie bedroom slippers, taking a walk in my Hokie Bird baseball cap or keeping warm in my maroon fleece pullover with the VT on the chest, I can be just as Hokie-centric as anyone. But for many years, I was pretty low-key about public displays of affection for my alma mater.
In fact, when I was in school in Blacksburg in the early ‘70s, the contrarian in me thought it was cooler not to wear the school colors. For example, my Tech sweatshirt was blue and grey, not maroon and orange. I never missed a home basketball game and generally spent fall Saturday afternoons in Lane Stadium. But I was one of those students who felt there was too much emphasis on athletics, who feared that the university’s drive to build a national caliber football team would adversely affect its academic quality.
Nonetheless, when the dream of pigskin prominence was finally achieved in the mid ‘90s, I found myself pulled proudly into the Hokie football orbit. And ironically, success on the gridiron led to higher academic standards, not the lowering I had expected. As Chris Jennings, president of the Tidewater Chapter of the Alumni Association, has said on more than one occasion, “Most of us Tech graduates of the past wouldn’t even be accepted today.” The average high school GPA of this year’s freshman class was 3.80; the average SAT score was 1231. Suffice it to say those numbers were a little lower when I matriculated in the fall of 1970.
But it’s those alums to which Jennings refers that have made Tech a favorite of bowl selection committees. In the industry parlance, we “travel well.” New Orleans, Jacksonville, Atlanta—all jump at the chance to have the Hokie faithful come to town.
And I’ve become one of those travelers.
In Atlanta for the Chick Fil-A Bowl a few weeks ago, I was asked by a group of Georgia Bulldog fans, “What is a Hokie?” It’s a question I’m often asked, one for which there are many wrong answers. My favorite is that it’s a “castrated turkey,” an answer given by a Virginia Tech cheerleader on national TV in 1973 when the basketball team was winning the NIT.
Fortunately, I can consult the Hokie Bird glass I am drinking water from as I write this article for the definitive answer: “Applied to all Tech students and athletic teams, ‘Hokie’ is a coined word, derived from the Old Hokie spirit yell.” Back in 1896, a student named O. M. Stull won a contest celebrating the changing of the school’s name from Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, creating the need for a new cheer. As my glass goes on to say, “According to Stull, the word had absolutely no meaning and was used merely as an attention getter.”
So here we are, my wife and I and thousands of others, cheering loudly for a team whose nickname has no meaning, decked out in a one-of-a-kind color scheme that defies the rules of fashion. You’ll see us riding down Interstates in vehicles adorned with magnets that say, “I’m on my way to see the HOKIES play,” car flags flying, windsocks flaring out from the side windows, turkey tracks trekking across the hood, VT stamped on trailer hitches and spare tire covers. You’ll see a maroon porchflag flapping in the breeze on the front of our homes, an orange garden flag sticking out among the flowers, a “Hokie Crossing” sign hanging on the door.
I think I’ll crawl into bed now and curl up under the warm orange blanket with the maroon embroidery, and get some sleep. The basketball team had a close one tonight…but we won in overtime. Isn’t it great to be a fan?
“Hokie, Hokie, Hokie, Hi…Tech, Tech, VPI…”
Gerri Newsom decked out in maroon and orange
at the Chick Fil-A Bowl, Georgia Dome in Atlanta, 12/30/06
copyright © 2007 Jim Newsom. All Rights Reserved. Used by Permission.