An “A-list celebrity” drew hundreds of attendees at the Mount Airy Rotary Club’s weekly meeting Tuesday afternoon.
Jerry Cox called retired Virginia Tech football coach Frank Beamer an icon in an introduction to hundreds of Rotary members and guests. Beamer is an icon who laid his first roots in Mount Airy.
Cox said Beamer was born at Martin Memorial Hospital on the corner of Cherry and Gilmer streets (which was destroyed by fire in 1953). He grew up in a home on U.S. 52 in Fancy Gap, Virginia.
“Very few people go through life and a career in college football as an icon,” remarked Cox.
Cox outlined the coach’s credentials including 23 consecutive bowl appearances and the sixth-most wins in Division I college football history, aligning his statistics with those of legends such as Joe Paterno, Pop Warner and Paul “Bear” Bryant.
The coach also branded his own version of the game, known as “Beamer Ball.”
Cox said Beamer Ball started with a victory over the University of Indiana in the 1993 Independence Bowl. The Hokies scored 14 points in the final seconds of the second quarter.
When referees ruled Indiana had called a timeout with one second remaining in the first half, Beamer threw “a Fancy Gap fit.” Referees didn’t change their mind, but Tech blocked Indiana’s field goal attempt, returning the ball for a touchdown.
Cox also urged those in attendance to join him in a moment of silence for the recently departed Mount Airy High School football legend Todd Greenwood, who played his college ball for the Hokies under Beamer’s predecessor, Bill Dooley.
Beamer began his remarks by recalling stories of travelling “down the mountain” on U.S. 52 to do his shopping at F. Rees and other Mount Airy stores. He said it wasn’t always easy to be Frank Beamer in such a community.
“During one of those 2-8-1 years when we could hardly win a game, I was in Wythville,” recounted Beamer. “A guy said his name was Beamer. I said, ‘I’m from the other side of that mountain. We might be kin.’”
The man responded with, “Not this year, we aren’t.”
Beamer said it’s not all good times when you are a college football coach.
“I don’t mind signing autographs and taking pictures. There once was a time nobody wanted my picture.”
Beamer also said there were other rough times, identifying a Sugar Bowl loss to Florida State University, which ended Tech’s run for a 1999 BCS National Championship.
“We were good enough to win. We didn’t get it done,” remarked Beamer.
One attribute which characterized Beamer’s teams was consistency, however. One Rotary member asked the coach how he maintained the consistency throughout the course of his tenure at Tech.
“It starts with our approach,” noted Beamer. “We were never an up-and-down outfit. We never got too high or too low.”
He said another factor is having a solid quarterback, noting his teams had many good ones (like Mount Airy’s Greenwood) and a few great ones, like current NFL quarterbacks Michael Vick and Tyrod Taylor.
Beamer said the elder Vick was torn between Syracuse University and the Hokies throughout the duration of the star Hokie’s recruitment period. It turned out, Vick’s high school coach and his mother pushed hard for Michael Vick to attend Virginia Tech.
Of course, younger brother, Marcus Vick, would eventually come as part of the package.
He noted the university’s 2004 move to the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC) was “the greatest day in Virginia Tech athletic history.”
While football was the obvious subject for the group, Beamer’s remarks weren’t limited to the American tradition.
Ben Cooke asked Beamer about the reaction to a 2007 shooting at the university which left 32 people dead.
“I tried to walk around campus more,” answered Beamer. “It helped people to see people they knew.”
“We came to the conclusion we weren’t going to let one sick individual define who we are.”
Beamer said he remembers well the faces of parents who lost students in the shooting. He spoke to the group in the aftermath of the event.
While the day may have been terrible, Beamer said it was how the university, its students and the community reacted which ought to define the university.
“I think it’s an even more respectful and caring community today.”
Beamer said while his years on the Hokie sidelines may be over, it doesn’t mean he’s slowed down in life.
He noted he’s staying busy attending spring football camps and clinics. He has also found more time to be a part of the lives of his four grandchildren, adding in his early years of coaching he didn’t balance his duties to family and on the field quite as well.
Andy is a staff writer and may be reached at 415-4698.