Story by Chris Graham
Billy Hite’s first phone call went to his daughter. Then it was to 14 people who are like sons to him.
“When I did get through to one of them, you know, Have you talked to anybody else? And they kept telling me that they talked to so-and-so and so-and-so – but when I went to bed that night, I still didn’t feel comfortable, because I hadn’t talked to all of them,” said Hite, the associate head football coach at Virginia Tech, recounting the horror of Monday’s mass shootings at Tech that left 33 people, including the gunman, Cho Seung-Hui, dead, and had everybody who knew anybody that they knew to be on the Blacksburg campus scurrying to try to find out if they were OK.
Hite, who has been at Tech since 1978, also has a daughter, Kirsten, who is a junior at Virginia Tech.
“That was the first call that I made – and I reached her immediately. She was on her way on campus – and I told her to go back home at that point in time. I was very much relieved once I got a hold of her,” Hite told reporters on a conference call set up by the ACC ostensibly to talk about the conclusion of the spring-practice period across the conference.
Tech head coach Frank Beamer canceled the remainder of the Hokies’ spring schedule – including this weekend’s spring game – in the wake of the tragedies.
“He honestly felt at this point in time with as bad as this situation is that we’re better off right now just ending spring practice,” Hite said.
That decision wasn’t all that hard to arrive at – considering that the coaching staff, Hite included, had not accounted for all of their players by the end of the day on Monday.
“Each position coach was calling each one of their guys – and everybody had the same problem. I ended up getting about seven or eight of them (the first day), and by the next day, I talked to all 14 of them. And thank God they were all safe,” Hite said.
The coaching staff then turned its attention to requests from several players to be allowed to return home to be with their families.
“Some of our parents wanted their children home right away – and that’s what we did. I had talked to a couple of my players, and I told them to just go ahead and go home. I didn’t know what our schedule would be the rest of the week, but their parents wanted them there, and that’s what they needed to do. And Coach Beamer felt that way. He ended up saying, Anybody that needs to go home, tell them to go home,” Hite said.
Next up has been the incredible outpouring of support from around the football world.
“It’s been unbelievable. With me being here this many years, I’m amazed by it – I really am. And it’s not only players, but (former Tech coach Bill) Dooley has called twice. I ended up talking to his wife this morning. Bruce Smith wants to do something, and I don’t know what to tell him. Bruce Smith has called me four times – and left me a number to let him know if he could do anything. And the amount of college coaches around the country who have called – it’s been wonderful, it really has. I’m talking about ACC coaches, too, people that you’re competing against,” Hite said.
The competitions are a few months off in the distance. Hite thinks Tech football will play an important role in the healing process in Blacksburg and throughout Hokie Nation.
“That’s the one thing about the Hokie Nation. Football was probably the first thing that’s gotten this group together to respond the way they do,” Hite said.
“That’s the thing about not playing the spring game. At one time it would have brought everybody together. But at the same time, I’m sure some of those students are going to be buried this Saturday also. I think we made the right decision from that standpoint,” Hite said.
“I think this will make the Hokie Nation even stronger – if that’s possible,” Hite said.