On most Thanksgiving weekends, the eyes of the Commonwealth turn to Charlottesville or Blacksburg for the annual clash of Virginia’s two most prominent football programs. But on Saturday, the University of Virginia Cavaliers will not play the Virginia Tech Hokies as planned.
The game was canceled after the tragic shooting on November 13 that killed three UVA football players and left two others in critical condition. But even without the excitement of the annual competition, this weekend we should cherish the memory of these student-athletes and show our collective support for a Commonwealth in fear.
A few weeks ago, the annual Commonwealth Clash seemed almost destined to be forgotten. Both teams struggled through disappointing seasons. No one can qualify for a postseason bowl. The game mattered only to students, alumni and fans who will not miss an opportunity to outdo their rivals.
Other Virginia football programs — James Madison University, Old Dominion University, and Liberty University — can all lay claim to the title of the state’s top team. The high-profile squads of the Atlantic Coast Conference no longer strike terror into the hearts of these upstarts who fearlessly stand against them.
This is of course great for the community. It’s exciting for the schools and the businesses that surround noisy stadiums on clear fall weekends. And there are more opportunities for higher education for students whose gaming careers don’t progress beyond the college level.
But it’s something special, a 127-year rivalry with schools that couldn’t be more different because of their locations, traditions and academic focus. It’s a sibling brawl every year and there’s nothing worse.
Here’s the thing about a sibling. Leggings and fights aside, nobody loves more and has closer bonds than brothers and sisters. They can poke fun at each other and laugh at each other’s expense, but the desire to outperform them at every turn is a powerful motivator. It’s fuel for success.
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So when one is hurt, the other offers comfort, support, empathy, and strength.
The Commonwealth witnessed in 2007 when a Virginia Tech student shot and killed 50 classmates and instructors and killed 32 in the worst mass shooting on campus in American history. Communities across the country expressed their horror and sympathy for Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, but arguably none was more powerful than the outpouring from Charlottesville and UVA.
Now the roles are reversed. Virginia witnessed a terrible tragedy this month, something no campus or community should grapple with. Virginia Tech moved quickly to support their colleagues, from lighting the administration building in UVA’s signature blue and orange to demonstrations by Hokies sports teams in solidarity with the Hoos.
It was hoped that Saturday’s game, if played, could be an opportunity for healing and grief and a platform to celebrate the memories of the remarkable young men lost to gun violence. Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr., and D’Sean Perry were football players, yes, but they were also committed students, beloved sons and brothers, social activists, and college leaders.
What dreams would they have pursued if this hadn’t happened? What would they have achieved? How would they have made the world a better place? These questions always haunt the aftermath of deadly violence, especially when victims have so much of their lives ahead of them.
There needs to be an investigation – more than one, in fact. And many questions that demand answers. These must come and the Commonwealth must respond constructively.
But in the absence of the annual game, this weekend should focus on healing, compassion and the memories of these young men. That tragedy happened at the University of Virginia, but the whole Commonwealth is feeling it, and even without this weekend’s game, UVA should know they don’t have to walk this difficult path alone.