When I was in middle school, my family moved to Virginia. This was a bit of a culture shock after living in major cities for the first ten years of my life. One of the positives was that it brought us closer to my grandparents, aunts and uncles, and the rest of my family for the first time. Our new home also provided me with access to college sports, including Virginia Tech (where my Dad and his father went to school) and James Madison (where my mom’s parents attended). We had season tickets to both Virginia Tech football and JMU men’s basketball. We often traveled to see them on the road when they weren’t at home. Before going to college, I attended hundreds of games together with my family.

JMU had recently hired Lefty Driesell as their head coach. Coach Driesell was one of the most unique (“folksy”) personalities in sports and would ultimately make the Hall of Fame. He turned JMU into a national player right away, but they always seemed to lose the biggest games. When the team won their semifinal in the 1993 CAA Tournament, it happened to be Coach Driesell’s 600th win. JMU handed out “600 Club” buttons to mark the occasion. Recognizing they were still one victory away from the championship, my Granddad drew a small number “1” on a piece of paper and glued it to the button to show that the “601 Club” was the one that really mattered. The Dukes would lose the next game, and Coach would have to wait for 601. It would be another year before they finally won the conference and made the NCAA Tournament. I struggle to name more than one or two players on my favorite teams today, but I’m pretty sure I could name the entire roster of the 93-94 JMU basketball team that made the Tournament. I even still have the “601” button in my office as a reminder of my grandparents and all the games we attended.

At the same time, Virginia Tech had a relatively new football coach named Frank Beamer. My Dad and I would attend all the home games and a handful of road games each season. I loved these all-day trips even though the team would only win a few games in those first years. The outcome was secondary. My greatest memories were making the winding drive to Blacksburg with my Dad and tailgating (frequently in freezing mountain weather) before the games. My grandparents and my uncle would sometimes tag along. We watched Coach Beamer turn the team around over the following years and eventually become a Hall-of-Fame coach as well. We don’t make it to as many games now, but watching college football games with my Dad remains one of my favorite things to do.

My sister and I would eventually attend other rival schools, placing my mom in the middle as a peacemaker during ACC football and basketball seasons. Even though my allegiances have changed, nothing compares to college football and college basketball for me because of those experiences I had attending games with my family when I was a kid.