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May 12, 2009

Blacksburg Sports Club has a long history of aiding Tech athletics

By: Jimmy Robertson

For some particular clubs and organizations in the town of Blacksburg, one must be either of brilliant mind or bulky wallet.

But for one, the criteria are far more attainable for ordinary, hardworking folks.

“The only qualification is having an interest in sports,” Wayne Campbell said.

Campbell serves as the president of the Blacksburg Sports Club, and for those who live outside the town proper and know little about this organization, it’s simply a group of grassroots Virginia Tech and Blacksburg High School fans who congregate once a week during the academic year for lunch at Custom Catering Center off Patrick Henry Dr. While there, they eat, listen to a Tech or Blacksburg High coach talk about his or her team and discuss in general the local sports scene. This group possesses an undying passion for the Hokies and the Bruins, no matter what happens on the field or on the court.

There is a nominal fee to be a part of the club – a rather palatable $20 a person for a yearly membership ($30 for couples). The lunch costs $8 per person, but for that price, one gets a fine meal and an hour’s long program with a member of the Virginia Tech or Blacksburg High athletics department, who often speaks first and then fields questions.

The interesting part of this club, though, is the transformation from a group of sports fans who come together each week to a valued partner of both the Tech and Blacksburg High athletics departments. The Blacksburg Sports Club’s mission, as stated on its Web site, is “to support local varsity athletic programs, primarily those of Blacksburg High School and Virginia Tech, and to provide a setting for fellowship and education around a sports theme.”

Mission accomplished. Their financial support reached record status for them this year, as the Blacksburg Sports Club raised $27,000.

“We split it down the middle and gave each one of them [Tech and Blacksburg High] $13,500,” Campbell said. “I think if you looked back 11 years ago or so, we probably gave them less than $1,000 each. From 1963 through 2000, we probably never gave them more than $500.

“That just shows how much we’ve grown as a club and how much the interest has grown in local sports here.”

The numbers certainly reflect that. The club consists of between 500 and 600 members. This includes 400 individual memberships and the rest are corporate memberships.

This represents a stark contrast from the club’s meager beginnings. In 1963, a group closely associated with the Tech athletics department, including athletics director Frank Moseley, Bill Matthews and Stuart Cassell, saw the need for a local, hometown support unit that would help the program to grow and be successful.

Moseley, who had given up his football coaching duties in 1960 after a splendid career to become the athletics director, turned out to be the driving force. He wanted an organized group of individuals and local businesses to gather together periodically to encourage and support Tech athletics. He initiated the contacts and discussions with some of the townsfolk, and that resulted in the formation of the Blacksburg Quarterback Club on Dec. 1, 1963.

Officers and a board were elected, with E.H. Creasey, Jr., serving as the first president, and a constitution was ratified.

Seventy-five members paid their dues of $5 each to become charter members. The club originally met every Monday at the old Hardie House Restaurant, but down through the years, moved to the Continuing Education Center and the Bowman Room in the Jamerson Athletics Center before currently finding residence at Custom Catering.
Of course, there was one slight problem back in those days.

“Maybe only a dozen or so people ever attended,” Campbell said. “They never knew who the speaker was going to be. I think sometimes they’d grab a coach from the hallway and get him to speak.”

Gradually, though, things changed. At the time, Moseley and friends wanted a club that would help the overall program grow, but in reality, this was a ‘football’ club. Yet in 1974, the club changed its name to the Blacksburg Sports Club, and over the course of time, changed its perspective, seeking to draw support for every sport at Tech. Years down the road, the club saw a need to help the local high school, so drumming up support for Blacksburg High became part of the mission.

Today, drumming up support primarily means raising money, with running an athletics department at both the college and high school levels being a costly endeavor. The club’s biggest fundraiser is a golf tournament every fall that generated between $5,000 and $6,000 last year.

“We also do other things,” Campbell said. “We do a 50-50 drawing each week in which we sell tickets and the winner gets to keep half the pot. The rest goes toward our contributions to the departments. We keep a portion of the $8 charge for lunch, and of course, our dues go toward the departments as well.

“We’ve also gotten more into corporate sponsorships. We’ve seen a lot of interest from local businesses – banks, real estate companies, restaurants and even some non-profit organizations. We give each one of them an opportunity to speak before the club and to sell their wares, so to speak. That [the corporate sponsorships] has really helped us increase our funds.”

Most of their contributions to Tech athletics go toward scholarships. However, $1,000 of it goes to the Tech marketing department, which places the Blacksburg Sports Club logo on certain promotional items, and another $1,000 goes toward the Jack Ridinger Memorial Softball Scholarship. Ridinger, whose stepson, Scot Thomas, is the head softball coach at Tech, worked for the Tech Police Department for years. He tragically passed away while on vacation in 2006.

The club, though, sees the potential for more growth and recently committed to a five-year pledge of $50,000 to the construction of a new football locker room – a direct reflection of the club’s growth and popularity.

“If you asked 10 people, you’d get 10 slightly different answers,” Campbell said as to why the club has become so popular. “I think a lot of it is the fellowship. We have a group who arrives for the weekly lunch at 10 o’clock just to reserve their table and sit around and talk.

“And a lot of people like to have lunch with their friends and listen to the coaches. It’s fun. It’s not a tense thing at all. We love having the coaches come and I think they enjoy coming. There aren’t any confrontations. We’re not a forum for criticism. It’s a place where they [the coaches] can let their hair down a little, and I think they’d all tell you that it’s one of their favorite places to talk.”

For sure, the Blacksburg Sports Club has come a long way in 46 years when club officers were searching the halls of Cassell Coliseum for speakers.

And the good thing is this – there appears to be no limit on where the club can go in the future.