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Track & Field Helps Lead New Beginning at Virginia Tech

April 25, 2007

By Doug Speck, DyeStatCal Co-Editor

(photos courtesy of Virginia Tech)

I majored in physical education, and taught it for a while, and have followed one form of sports or another for most of my life.  I really think this form of “play” is important to folks of all ages, with its ability to get us away from “real” life for a time.  It lets us focus on something that involves all the physical and mental senses in a competitive setting, with the results probably not altering world history too significantly no matter what the score or day’s relative success.  Hopefully we have all been able to get the old body in shape enough to enjoy a bit of the “runner’s high,” or the “sweet spot in sports,” or whatever you wish to call it when we are cruising through a run, sending the tennis ball back and forth across the net, or swishing the basketball with a controlled effortlessness that is kind of fascinating, at least for a single session along the way. 
 Dave Cianelli
I have taught English as a Second Language to students along the way and they are amazed at our American fascination with sports, and I usually tell them in history it is nice to live in a country where the basic needs are met for most and many people can spend their extra time following games.  We talk about the importance of sports in class as a way to break down barriers, with the recent sixtieth anniversary of Jackie Robinson’s (who grew up in the area I teach) entry into the Major Leagues as the first African-American baseball player, and how the sporting area added to the bringing together of the divided races in our nation.  I used to teach health and when Magic Johnson became probably the first-ever huge public figure to admit that he had AIDS, and deal with his condition in an open, head-on manner as he did everything on the court, it had an amazing educational effect on my students.  Something about this power and effect sports can have!   
 Kristi Castlin, Queen Harrison
The nation certainly was rocked by the news from Virginia Tech a week ago about the shooting that took place there with the huge death toll – as riveting and as sad a piece of news as there has been in recent history.  With the University setting where young people mature, eventually probably decide on a life direction to go, and make life-long friends or find partners, it is hoped that they are kind of insulated in a bubble from the possibilities in the world on the outside.  The brutal occurrence there certainly dragged us all through the emotional wringer as we watched the story unfold in Blacksburg, not even imagining what it would be like for those in that University setting there.  How could life ever begin to be the same?  What could people anchor on that would kind of be a “new beginning?” 
Along the way I remembered that Californian Dave Cianelli is the Head Track and Field Coach at Tech, and I dialed up their web site to see what the athletic teams would be doing in light of what had happened.  While one certainly could not argue with anyone who wished to fold up tent and call it a season or year, I noticed that their ACC conference meet was being held the weekend after the campus slaughter.  Empty lanes or unfilled spots in the field would certainly not have been argued with anyone involved, but as one viewed the results over the couple days of the competition, once sensed an amazing spirit and positive momentum at work with the Tech Women’s crew.  They shockingly came out leading during an abbreviated first day on Thursday, fell behind a bit on Friday on the scorecard, then buried everyone during a momentous final Saturday that had them win four individual final day titles on the way to a team win by over thirty points from the eleven other schools involved! 

The quality of performances was amazing, with squad members like freshman Kristi Castlin, certainly a fine high school athlete, here emerging at the top end of the national and really international level.  She blasted an American Junior-leading (under age 20) for the year 100 Hurdles clocking of 12.82w in the Finals (wind +2.1 just over the allowable) and 13.08 trials wind legal effort that is still better than anyone in the US of her age so far this season!  Junior Sherlinia Greene led frosh teammate Queen Harrison to a 1-2 400 Meter Hurdles finish with fine 56.66 and 56.80 clockings, Harrison’s clocking a US under 20 “junior-age” best for the 2007 season also.  Even viewing from afar, one had to be inspired by the effort of the entire team, including the Men’s group, who placed seventh in the very trying circumstances.
We asked Coach Cianelli at what has to be a very crazy time if he would summarize a bit what the last week had been like and his response kind of says it all:
We have shed a million tears this past week.  Many in pain, but also many in joy as our women's track and field team rose above the darkness to accomplish our goal of winning the ACC Championship.
It was the manner in which each student-athlete, coach, trainer came together.  Sure, we have some talented young ladies, but this went way beyond that.  What this team accomplished last weekend transcends courage, determination and desire.  Our performances were off the charts.  We proved that in the mist of our darkest hours, our TEAM and every person in the Virginia Tech Community can and WILL rise up to achieve greatness.  For me, April 16, 2007 will forever be remembered as the day my heart broke AND April 21, 2007 (the day we won the ACC Championship), I will always remember as the day 29 young lady Hokies healed me.

Dave Cianelli
Head Track and Field Coach
Virginia Tech

Looks to me like some of the schoolwide healing has already started – the playing field was as good an area as any to start the process.