Jan 29, 2015Hokies Regroup in Wake of Shootings
By Michael W. Goforth
Michael W. Goforth MS, ATC, is Director of Athletic Training for Virginia Tech Athletics
On April 16, the institution I call home was attacked by one of its own. At 7:15 a.m., a student killed two of his fellow students in West Ambler Johnston Residence Hall. At 9:01 a.m., he mailed a package of writings and videos outlining his actions to NBC News. Two hours after the first shooting, that student chained the entrance to Norris Hall and proceeded to go on a nine-minute, 170-round killing spree that ended with him taking his own life. When he was done, 33 were dead, 25 were wounded, and an entire community was left devastated by another senseless act of violence.
There’s no doubt the events of that day will change our university and its students, alumni, and staff forever. As a school that values its athletic programs and our role in the overall student and community environment, we in the athletic department were all left with a desire to contribute in some way to the healing process and help the community get back on its feet.
As soon as news of the tragedy broke, calls and e-mails started flooding in from every corner of the athletic world. From high school to the professional ranks and everything in between, like-minded professionals called to see what they could do and to offer their support.
During and immediately after the shootings, coaching staffs and administrators were busy trying to ensure that all of our athletes were accounted for. This is a daunting task, considering we have 600 student-athletes and student support staff members spread out over more than 100 buildings and 2,600 acres.
In a time when we have access to so many communication devices, it was evident early on in the process that we had no way to integrate the various systems to communicate with our athletes and their parents. Interestingly enough, our baseball team was best prepared to communicate due to a system they purchased to text message players when an immediate need arose to tarp the field in case of rain. Within five minutes of initiating communication, the coaches had heard from every player but one. They immediately went to that player’s apartment, where they found him safe, sound, and asleep. This spring, our university is participating in the NCAA recertification process. During this time we have taken a close look at all of our policies and procedures. One such policy we reviewed was an Incident Management Plan that deals with handling catastrophic injury or death that may occur at an athletic event or during team travel. After April 16, it became clear that athletic administrators at Virginia Tech, and at schools across the country, need to sit down and take a much closer look at the potential for tragedy and develop better ways to manage it if it occurs.
Since the tragic events, our University has been through a roller coaster of emotions. The University as a whole and the surrounding community have banded together and shown what we call “Hokie Spirit.” Numerous memorial funds have been established and we have been inundated with financial and other resource contributions. Counseling was immediately set up and is ongoing. There were also many other means of support established that have gone a long way toward aiding the victims’ families, the survivors, the witnesses, and the emergency personnel who responded to the situation. In addition, Virginia Governor Tim Kaine has established an Incident Review Panel to closely evaluate the events prior to and after the events.
As a department, we will continue to feel the effects of what happened for years to come. There is a heavy toll on our students and on the university emotionally, socially, and economically. As an athletic department, we have seen the tragedy’s impact on retention and recruiting of student-athletes.
Shortly after the shootings, it suddenly hit me how prevalent tragedy is within athletics. Whether it’s an athletics-related death, death of a staff member, or a death resulting from an environmental event or an accident, I was surprised to think just how prevalent these events are. My hope for you is that you can take the combined experiences of those who have been affected by these tragedies and develop your own strategies to support your staff and student-athletes in time of crisis.
Below is a partial list of events that have in one way or another touched a team or athletic department. This list is by no means complete, but it does provide a brief snapshot of the point I am trying to make: We all need to take the time to gather and ask our organizations if we are prepared to handle a tragedy. Whether it’s one death or 33 deaths, we need to be prepared!
1974, Alfredo Edmead, Salem Pirates 1977, Robert Voorhies, Virginia Tech 1990, Ronaldo Romero, Gastonia Rangers 1990, Hank Gathers, Loyola Marymount University 2003, 3 Football deaths related to the head and neck 2001, Korey Stringer, Minnesota Vikings 2001, Rashidi Wheeler, Northwestern University 2005, Aaron O’Neal, University of Missouri 2006, Dale Lloyd, Rice University 2001, Devaughn Darling, Florida State University 2004, Rhonda Pierce, Florida State University 2001, Eraste Autin, University of Florida 2001, Dale Earnhart, NASCAR 2000, Adam Petty, NASCAR 2007, Keely Dorsey, University of South Florida
Non-Athletics Related Deaths and Shootings
1988 Bob Walters, Coach, Western Carolina 1998 Eddie Ferrell, Athletic Trainer, Virginia Tech 1986 Len Bias, Boston Celtics 2007 Bluffton Baseball, six deaths 2007 Josh Hancock, St. Louis Cardinals 2002 Darryl Kile, St. Louis Cardinals 1979 Thurman Munson, NY Yankees 2006 Cory Lidle, NY Yankees 2003 Pat Tillman, Arizona Cardinals 2003 Carlton Dotson, Baylor Basketball 2006 6 players shot, Duquesne Basketball (all survived) 1997 Arkansas Football Player Suicide 2006 Brian Pata, Miami Hurricanes 1995 Red Edmonds, Coach, Tusculum College 1998 Texas A&M Bonfire 1998 Kentucky Football Player dies in alcohol related car crash 1970 14 Wichita State Football players die in plane crash 1931, Knute Rockne dies in plane crash, ND Head Football Coach Sept. 11, 2001 Mari Rae Sopper, Coach, UC Santa Barbara Sept. 11, 2001 Ace Bailey, Director of Pro Scouting, LA Kings 2001 2 players, 6 staff die in plane crash, Oklahoma State 1999 Payne Stewart and crew die in plane crash, PGA 1996 Rodney Culver, San Diego Chargers 1996 Brook Berringer dies in plane crash 2 days before NFL draft 1993 Davey Allison dies in plane crash, NASCAR 1993 18 players and 5 staff die in plane crash, Zambia National Soccer Team 1993 Allan Kulwicki dies in aircraft crash, Nascar 1985 6 members of Iowa State Women’s cross country team die 1980 Bo Rein dies in plane crash, LSU Football Coach 1977 14 players and 1 coach dies in plane crash, University of Evansville 1970 36 players and several staff members die in a plane crash, Marshall University 2005 Bradley Mosley, Cancer, South Florida 2001 Patrick Payton, Motorcycle Accident, South Florida 2007 Kasey Davis, Murder, TCU, Gun Shot 2007 DeAndre Adams, Winthrop, Car Accident
1966 University of Texas at Austin 1970 Kent State 1970 Jackson State 1976 California State University, Fullerton Library 1979 Cleveland Elementary School 1983 Parkway South Junior High School 1989 Stockton massacre 1991 University of Iowa 1992 Concordia University 1992 Simon’s Rock College of Bard 1995 Richland High School 1996 Frontier Junior High 1997 Pearl High School 1997 Heath High School 1998 Jonesboro 1998 Thurston High School 1999 Columbine High School 1999 Heritage High School 2001 Santana High School 2002 Appalachian School of Law 2002 Monash University 2003 Rocori High School 2004 Southwood Middle School 2005 Red Lake High School 2005 Campbell County High School 2006 Dawson College 2006 Platte Canyon High School 2006 Amish school shooting – Nickel Mines 2006 Weston High School shooting 2007 Henry Foss High School 2007 Virginia Tech