If this sounds a bit sappy, well, then maybe you're just too cynical. But you would have had a hard time convincing any of the more than 400 fans in attendance that the evening, which featured comments from coaches Rich Rodriguez, John Beilein and Mike Carey, was anything other than an affirmation of what their support does for West Virginia and its athletic programs.
The dinner program has come a long way in recent years, progressing from a plain speech and meal affair to an excellent evening of entertainment. Four separate videos were shown, one of which featured comments from student-athletes and coaches thanking Mountaineer fans for their support and showing how far the WVU program has progressed. Exclusive highlight videos of the men's and women's basketball programs, as well as of the football program, were also shown, and had the crowd applauding, oohing and ahhing as the young men and women in gold and blue showed their talents on the fields and courts.
Another highlight of the evening,and one which drew a standing ovation, was the comments of freshman Meg Bulger, who was standing in for her sister Kate. The elder Bulger was recently drafted by the Minnesota Lynx, and was unable to attend. Her spot was filled by the Big East Freshman of the Year, and her comments about what WVU has meant to her and her family had the crowd eating out of her hand. She also managed to get in a jab at her father Jim (who was also in attendance) by noting the the women defeated Notre Dame for the first time in Big East play this year.
Meg was just one of a number of Mountaineer athletes in attendance, which included such standouts as national champion wrestler Greg Jones, gymnastics national qualifier Janae Cox, soccer All-Americans Lisa Stoia and Chrissie Abbott, men's basketball stalwart Joe Herber and quarterback Rasheed Marshall. Having the athletes in attendance at the dinner made it a much more personal event, and the class with which they represent themsleves and their school was plain to see.
If you've gotten this far, you probably figure I've crossed the journalistic line of impartiality. Heck, I blew past that in the first paragraph. As we sat and watched the inspiring videos with flyover shots of Mountaineer Field and WVU's athletic facilities, I paused to think about what WVU fans have helped build. As we relived Quincy's run, Joe Herber's shot and John Pennington's catch, I took time to remember that I'm a Mountaineer fan, first and foremost, and the thrills that WVU athletics have provided me over the years. As I listend to John Beilein talk about building his program, I filled with shared pride, and looked forward to even better days ahead. As Mike Carey spoke about his good fortune in having the Bulger sisters, I reminisced on the big home win over Virginia Tech and the NCAA bid that followed. And as Rich Rodriguez cracked several jokes, some squarely aimed at himself, the realization came over me that I'm very lucky to be able to be in this postion, and to help support the school that I love.
There are still a number of stops on the Mountaineer Caravan around the state. If you have the chance, and the means, I strongly encourage you to attend. You'll see what your support has enabled your school to do, and where WVU is going in the future. You'll leave with a great feeling, about both yourself and the future of the Mountaineers.
Sometimes I take it for granted that I'm able to go on the field, take pictures from courtside, and talk with these outstanding young men and women. After last night, I won't be making that mistake again.