1896, a Formative Year for Virginia Tech Football
With a new school year about to start, and Lane Stadium soon to be filled with cheering fans, we can’t resist offering a little lesson from Hokie History 101. Well, this piece may belong in a 200-level course, since we’ve included a few obscure facts that the average fan isn’t likely to know.
In recognition of its broadening curriculum in science and technology, the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College in 1896 became the Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute. The new name being more than a mouthful, it was shortened in popular usage to Virginia Polytechnic Institute, or VPI.
The school’s fledgling football program underwent changes of its own that year. Early on, the college had adopted school colors of black and cadet gray, but when worn on a striped football jersey, the colors resembled a prison convict’s uniform—a similarity that undoubtedly became a source of ridicule from opposing teams.
A committee reviewed the colors used by other colleges and decided that burnt orange and Chicago maroon would provide a unique color combination (as indeed it did and continues to do). The new colors debuted not in the opening game of 1896, but in the second game, at home against Roanoke College, on October 20.
Changes came to fan support, as well. By the 1890s, the college cheer, or yell, had become a popular means of boosting enthusiasm at campus athletic events. As long as they incorporated the name of the college and / or team, the words in these yells weren’t as important as the rhythm and tone. Cheers relied on creative, invented words–words that were easy and fun to yell–as is evident in the first yell adopted by VAMC:
Rip, Rah, Ree,
Vah, Vah, Vee,
A. M. C.
A. M. C.
An abridged, peppier version of the longer yell seems to have been used more frequently by fans at games:
Rip, Rah, Ree!
Va, Va, Vee!
By the 1895 season, the students had adopted a new, somewhat more complex college yell, published in the 1896 Bugle:
Hicki! Hicki! Hicki!
Sis! Bom! Bar!
A. and M. College,
Wah! Who! Wah!
Vivla! Vivla! Vivla! Vee!
Virginia! Virginia! A. M. C.!
The “Wah! Who! Wah!” bit may have been a little too reminiscent of the “Wah-hoo-wah!” yell of University of Virginia fans, and the 1896 Bugle records a separate yell that was used to cheer the 1895 football squad :
Do! Do! Ha! Ha! Dom-i-di-i-dee;
A. M. C.
Hip Hip, Hip, Hurrah!
A. M. C.-c-c-c-c-c-boom!!!! Football
The school’s new name rendered these yells obsolete, but rather than simply incorporate the new name into existing yells, the Athletic Association sponsored a contest for a new yell (which, as things turned out, is fortunate, or we might otherwise all be cheering “Let’s go, Hickies!” or be members of “the Do Do Nation” today). The composer of the winning entry would receive a five-dollar prize.
Oscar Meade Stull (1874-1964), a senior majoring in applied chemistry and serving as cadet first lieutenant and adjutant, put his imagination to work in composing a cheer that used fun, invented words and incorporated the school’s new name:
Hoki, Hoki, Hoki, Hy!
Techs, Techs, VPI!
Polytechs — Vir-gin-i-a!
Rae, Ri, VPI!
Stull’s submission became the winning entry and is said to have made its debut when the cadets traveled to Richmond and participated in the laying of the cornerstone for the city’s Jefferson Davis monument on July 2, 1896. As Stull recalled some 60 years later, “I was surprised when my yell was accepted, but I needed the five spot.” In addition to the fiver, Stull earned a lasting place in Virginia Tech history. The legacy was an unexpected one. In a 1956 letter to Virginia Tech library director Seymour Robb, Stull wrote, “I am more surprised in recent years that [the Hokie yell] has endured for 60 years!”
According to various histories, 1896 also marked the year in which Floyd “Hard Times” Meade (1882-1941) came to be associated with the football team. Just 14 years old at the time, Meade worked part-time in the campus mess hall and was adopted as an unofficial mascot by the team. As mascot, Meade frequently performed at games dressed as a clown in orange and maroon, his antics probably not so dissimilar to mascots of later years. Meade would later figure prominently in the evolution of the team’s mascot and traditions. But his is a story for a future blog post.
The traditions begun in 1896 served the team well. The VPI gridders won that first orange-and-maroon game over Roanoke College 12-0, and the team eventually went 5-2-1, ending the season with a 24-0 rout of then-archrival VMI. The eight-game season was the longest played since the team’s founding, and though it would be nearly a decade before VPI regularly played that many games a year, the success of that season proved the feasibility of scheduling more games.
It would take some time for an “e” to be added to Stull’s “hoki,” and though his cheer incorporated the names “Techs” and “Polytechs,” the school seems to have made little effort in promoting the use of these names. The Cohee, an 1897-1898 publication of the Athletic Association, makes no mention of the names; the press most often referred to the team simply as “V.P.I.” or by generic terms such as “the Blacksburg eleven.” It would be several years before VPI teams came to be known more commonly as Techs, Polytechs, or Techmen; more than a decade to be known as The Gobblers; and still longer to be called The Hokies, but the seeds for all that has followed were sown in 1896.