Tech Traditions, Tech Triumph
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Hokie Stone is the “trademark” of the university’s architectural beauty and it’s likely the most enduring visual memory that alumni carry long after their time on campus. Known as “our native stone” when first used in campus building construction in 1899, this attractive and distinctive limestone more recently assumed the moniker “Hokie Stone,” reflecting it as a Virginia Tech architectural tradition.
Game Ball Run
Ranger Company, the Army ROTC company, has performed the Game Ball Run every year since 1977, although the tradition likely originated with the Virginia Tech-VMI football games years before that.
This tradition consists of members of Ranger Company running the game ball for 100 miles around campus during the week of the annual Homecoming football game. The runners attend the Homecoming pep rally to rally the crowd and then hold a ceremony the day of the game, which includes running the ball into the stadium.
That “Huge” Tech Ring
The Class of 1911 was the first at Virginia Tech to have a class ring. However, the Class Ring Tradition truly began in 1912 when the Class of 1914 chose a student committee to design a class ring, which would be unique and meaningful to class members. Today, Virginia Tech is one of only a few colleges and universities that maintain a traditional class ring program. Two major traditions combine to make the Virginia Tech Ring Program unique: the design and the presentation of the rings.
Virginia Tech introduces an entirely newly designed collection for each class. Each year, the sophomore class selects a Ring Committee responsible for designing their class ring collection. Each collection includes certain elements: the screaming eagle, American flag, campus buildings, and an interlocking chain around the bezel. The screaming eagle evolved from a pair of twin eagles used on the first Virginia Tech ring, symbolizing the twin virtues of strength and freedom. The American flag and campus buildings symbolize the enduring heritage of our nation and Virginia Tech. The chain represents “the strength of many united as one.” Each Ring Committee adds unique designs reflecting their respective class experiences.
Beginning in the 1990s, each class began naming their collection in honor of an outstanding Virginia Tech personality. During each class' junior year, at the annual Ring Premiere, the collection is unveiled and class members begin ordering their rings. The rings are not delivered until the week of Ring Dance, held in the spring of the class' junior year.
A display case in the Williamsburg Room of Squires Student Center contains Virginia Tech class rings since 1921. The display was dedicated during the 1991 and 1986 class reunion in November of 1996. Other rings are on display in the Alumni Museum of the Holtzman Alumni Center.
Traditions of the Corps of Cadets
The Corps of Cadets is considered by many to be the keeper of traditions at Virginia Tech. Probably the oldest tradition in the Corps is the Honor Code: A cadet will not lie, cheat, or steal, nor tolerate those that do. It has been central to the cadet experience for over a century. Many long-standing traditions have been modified over the years to reflect changes in society. One such custom is that of the junior-freshman mentor relationship. The tradition of “dyking” — slang for “decking,” meaning decking out the junior cadet in formal uniform for Ring Dance — has evolved to today’s mentoring program. The freshmen still help by supporting the juniors in all phases of getting ready for Ring Dance, but in today’s leader development environment, juniors take on more of a mentoring role to help the freshmen navigate the challenges of their first cadet year.
Another example of a continuing tradition that has been updated is that of Turn About Day, which is now called Shadow Day. In earlier days, Turn About Day was a day where the roles were reversed and the freshman class was in charge for one day, and all upperclassmen reverted to the freshman cadet role. Freshmen bid on upperclassman shirts for rank, bidding to become the company commander or regimental commander and the like, with the money going to charity. Today the same bidding process is conducted, with funds still going to a worthy cause. Recently, it went to the Matthew J. La Porte Scholarship in honor of the cadet lost on April 16th, and to the Lauren Smith Scholarship in honor of the cadet who died last fall. The purpose of the event is to give each freshman a real glimpse into the responsibilities he or she will shoulder as they progress up the ranks.
A relatively new tradition is the Caldwell March. This annual 26-mile hike has been conducted in two 13-mile segments annually since the year 2000. It re-creates the trek made by Addison Caldwell as he went from his home in Craig County to the campus to register as the first student at the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1872.
A tradition dating from 1934, the Virginia Tech Ring Dance symbolizes a hallmark in a Tech student’s career. Upon entering the dance, each couple receives a pair of ribbons in the class colors. The lady wears her date's ring on her wrist with the darker colored ribbon, and the gentleman wears his date's ring on his wrist with the lighter colored ribbon. At the official Ring Exchange, the Corps of Cadets enter the ballroom and stand in the shape of the class numerals. As each couple exchanges rings, "Moonlight and VPI," written specifically for the Ring Dance by composer Fred Waring and lyricist Charles Gaynor, is sung. As the clock strikes midnight, the evening ends with an elaborate fireworks display on the Drillfield and the playing of "Silvertaps."
The Class of 1935 held the first Ring Dance on April 27, 1934, where the ring figure, sabre arch, and presentation of the ring by the junior's date were introduced. Since then, the fame of the Ring Dance has spread across the nation, introducing many memorable highlights. Always, the Ring Dance is a night to remember for those receiving their rings.
“Night after night we 'dragged' the rats and learned to flip our sabres correctly. ... Friday finally rolled around and brought our dates... as well as VMI's ambassadors of good will. The reception at the SAB formally opened our debut and after three years of waiting... the figure - the ring - and the kiss.” (from the 1942 Virginia Tech Yearbook)
Devised as a way to introduce freshmen to their life as cadets, help turn them into adults, and to keep them in line, the “rat” system was part of the Corps during the college’s first 50 years. It was replaced in 1934 by a system of military and civilian rules. In the early years, sophomores dressed freshmen in a variety of costumes for an annual “rat parade,” which featured rats marching through campus and town.
Various cannons have been used off and on for years at Virginia Tech, but in the 1960s one industrious student formally proposed to the student governing body that a cannon be acquired to fire at football games. The proposal was approved, but went no further.
About the same time, two cadets from the class of 1964 made a pact at a traditional Thanksgiving Day game with then rival VMI that they would build a cannon for Virginia Tech (then known as VPI) to outshine — or outblast — VMI's "Little John." The cadets, Alton B. "Butch" Harper Jr. and Homer Hadley "Sonny" Hickam (of October Sky fame), were tired of hearing VMI cadets chant "Where's your cannon?" after firing their own.
Harper and Hickam collected brass from their fellow cadets, added it to metal donated by Hickam's father, collected donations from the Corps to purchase other supplies, and used a mold created in one of the engineering departments from Civil War-style plans to make their cannon. They derived the name of the cannon — "Skipper" — from the fact that President John Kennedy, who had just been assassinated, had been the skipper of a PT boat, and they wanted to do something to honor him.
On its first firing at the next game with VMI, the eager cadets tripled the charge, which blew the hats off half the VMI Keydets and shook the glass in the press box windows of Roanoke's Victory Stadium. They never heard the VMI chant again. Today, Skipper is fired from outside Lane Stadium when the football team enters the field and when it scores.
Gobblers to HokieBirds
The origin of the term “Gobblers” is disputed, with one story claiming it was coined in the early 1900s as a description of how student athletes would “gobble” their more than ample servings of food. Another story attributes it to the fact that the 1909 football coach, Branch Bocock, wanted to stimulate better spirit amongst his players and initiated them into an impromptu and informal “Gobbler Club.”
Thus, the name was already popular when Fred Meade, a local resident chosen by the student body to serve as the school’s mascot, had a large turkey pull him in a cart at a football game in 1913. The school’s president later halted the cart pulling because he thought it was cruel to the turkey. Meade continued to parade his mascot, which he had trained to gobble on command, up and down the sidelines — and did so until another “turkey trainer” took over in 1924 to continue the tradition. Enthusiastic fans and sports writers adopted the “Gobbler” nickname and began to use it regularly. In 1936, a costumed Gobbler joined the live gobbler for at least one game. The use of a live gobbler mascot continued into the 1950s and a costumed Gobbler joined the cheerleaders in the late '50s. The first permanent costumed Gobbler took the field in the fall of 1962 and has appeared ever since.
But the “Gobbler” was not to last, at least in name. By the late 1980s, “Hokie” became the popular brand in athletics. In 1982, the Gobbler mascot costume was redesigned and references first appeared to it as “the Hokie mascot,” “the Hokie,” and “the HokieBird.” The style of costume worn by today’s HokieBird made its first appearance in 1987.
Beginning no later than the 1960s, members of the Corps of Cadets have carried a Flaming VT through campus and sometimes into town before carting it to the Thursday night pep rallies, then held at the War Memorial. In the 1990s, the tradition was altered, and the cadets began carrying the Flaming VT to Homecoming pep rallies on Alumni Hall Lawn. The Flaming VT consists of a metal frame in the shape of a V with the T nested inside it. Toilet paper soaked in kerosene is woven through the frame and set ablaze.
Orange and Maroon Colors
During 1896, a committee was formed to find a suitable combination of colors to replace the original colors of black and gray, which appeared in stripes on athletic uniforms and presented an image resembling prison uniforms. The committee selected burnt orange and Chicago maroon after discovering that no other college utilized this particular combination of colors. Burnt orange and Chicago maroon were officially adopted and were first worn during a football game versus nearby Roanoke College on October 26, 1896.
Unique to Virginia Tech is the word “coofer” that was coined in the early 1940s to refer to tests or homework completed in an earlier course that is available to students taking the course later, and used as a means of studying or preparing. The term originated at Bluefield College, a former extension branch of VPI, and is likely derived from the word “coffer” (synonym for a strongbox). A student from Bluefield College transferred to the Blacksburg campus and first introduced the term. It is often used as a verb in such constructions as “to coofer a problem.” It is also sometimes spelled “koofer.”
For more than fifty years of the early college, student discipline was often challenging for the administration and faculty. It occasionally was painful to the surrounding community and ultimately led to the removal of two early presidents. One tradition that emerged among the cadets was a single night of the year, Sophomore Night, during which “each succeeding class tried to outdo the preceding sophomores in the amount of mischief and destruction…” It came to a climax in 1925 when sophomores took cows to the top floor of the barracks, placed an assortment of farm vehicles and a horse drawn hearse on the roofs of barracks, brought two steam rollers from a highway construction job for a “bullfight,” drove a grocery truck down a basement stairway, filled the quadrangle with numerous livestock, and hauled a fire hose reel up a flagpole. President Burruss’ strong disciplinary action that followed ended forever the Sophomore Night tradition.
Wording by Clara B. Cox, Tom Tillar, and Colonel Rock Roszak.