Pregame ceremony will honor victims, families and first responders

Updated: August 29, 2007, 6:55 PM ET
By Mark Schlabach | ESPN.com

BLACKSBURG, Va. -- Virginia Tech will honor the 32 victims of April's horrific campus shooting during a 20-minute ceremony before Saturday's football opener against East Carolina at Lane Stadium.

After months of discussions with other campus leaders, Hokies athletic director Jim Weaver said the school settled on a ceremony that will honor the 32 students and faculty killed by a lone gunman in the deadliest shooting spree in U.S. history. The school also will honor the victims' families, those wounded and the first responders to the massacre inside Norris Hall.

"We wanted to make sure we recognize them," Weaver said. "We will never forget."

After the teams warm up and leave the field around 11:45 a.m. Saturday, the school's Corps of Cadets will march onto the field, which is a tradition for the first home game. Then two school bands -- the Highty-Tighties (the Corps' band) and the Marching Virginians -- will perform, followed by a moment of silence and the national anthem.

East Carolina chancellor Steve Ballard and athletic director Terry Holland will present Virginia Tech officials with a $100,000 donation to the Hokie Spirit Memorial Fund. ACC commissioner John Swofford also will be recognized for the league's earlier donation of $300,000. Virginia Tech president Charles Steger and Virginia governor Tim Kaine then will recognize the first responders at the 50-yard line.

In what will certainly be the most emotional moment of the pregame ceremony, a tribute video of the victims will be shown on the video screens on the scoreboard in Lane Stadium. Afterward, 32 balloons will be released above the stadium to honor the deceased.

"I think it's going to be as emotional of a game day as I've seen in my 10 years here," Weaver said. "I say that because the Hokie constituencies are a very caring people and they feel very badly about what happened on April 16, losing 32 of our own."

After the school's fight song, "Tech Triumph," is played by the bands, both teams will run onto the field at the same time. The Pirates will run through a tunnel created by the Corps of Cadets. After the coin toss, the team's head coaches and seniors will shake hands at midfield. Weaver said the Hokies want to thank East Carolina for its generosity and aid after the shootings.

"We wanted to honor East Carolina for what they're giving to us," Weaver said. "We just thought it would be a fitting tribute to do it like this."

Weaver also has taken steps to ensure that the Pirates and future opponents are welcomed to Lane Stadium with a warm ovation. Weaver sent a letter to Virginia Tech season-ticket holders and an e-mail to faculty, staff and students, in which he asked them to refrain from booing opposing teams this season.

"With the kind of outpouring of love and concern we were shown, it would be very unsettling if you had a booing situation when an opponent came into Lane Stadium," Weaver said. "We don't want that to ever happen again."

But Weaver said he didn't want Virginia Tech fans to lose their passion, either. Lane Stadium is regarded as one of the most intimidating places to play in college football because of its raucous crowds.

"We're not trying to get them to lose their intensity for the game, but we want them to always show respect for the opponent," Weaver said.

Weaver also said each of Virginia Tech's 21 athletic teams will wear a patch with the Virginia Tech logo and a ribbon this season. Each of the teams at the ACC's other 11 schools will wear a black bar on their uniforms.

"I think we're doing the right thing as far as remembering the victims and their families and the people who were shot, too," Hokies coach Frank Beamer said.

Mark Schlabach covers college football and men's college basketball for ESPN.com. You can contact him at schlabachma@yahoo.com.

Mark Schlabach | email

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