Monday, April 16, 2007

Chaos at Virginia Tech

Thirty two dead, as many as 15 injured are the latest statistics on the armed attack in Virginia. The worst shooting incident ever to occur on U.S soil.

The surreal nature of todays events all hit home for me even now far removed from the place in a geographical sense. This is because I lived for over a year in Virginia not so long ago. In retrospect, an uneventful and peaceful year with little or none of the alarming signs I had been taught to expect, as a Canadian, about life in the U.S.

Virginia Tech University the location of today's shootings was in the news fairly often that year largely for what would be a season of stellar achievement by its sports teams. The football team were perrenial contenders and the men's basketball team would make a spirited run in the NCAA Basketball tournament that season.

Virginia Tech is one of two large Universities in Virginia, the other the prestigious academic University of Virgina, colloquially known as UVA.

A colleague and proud graduate of UVA had once explained the ongoing friendly sports rivalry between the two universities. Jokes, I learned, were routinely exchanged between the students of the two schools about the various inadequacies of the other. Virginia Tech branded the blue collar hokies and UVA the upper crust of state academia. It made for lively banter.

This was a familiar feature of life there.
Whole communities involved in sports teams from the high school level on up. There was a continuity to the support. Everyone would contribute, athletes and supporters to the greater success. A team that did well in a National tournament caused a collective excitement that would seize most everyone in the community and naturally it offered a connection to other places across the country, all of them bonded by the pursuit of that common goal, the championship and all of the attendant bragging rights that came with it. Football and basketball were the main sports but every athlete appeared to recieve a just measure of acclaim.

The popularity of college sports in the U.S a fixture on American cable TV beaming into Canadian living rooms had never made much of an impression till I lived there and saw what it all meant to these communities. Long after graduation many of the professionals I met would follow their team's progress every year with pitched excitement.

The violence of today's events will have sheared the fabric of that network of connections . One of the students interviewed today commented on how this would effect the school spirit. It was not a superficial comment. This event will hang like a pall over the shared sense of community that pervades that institution for some considerable time.

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