Drive for 25 going strong, with Beamer leading the way

By Jimmy Robertson

BLACKSBURG – When Frank Beamer announced his retirement as the Virginia Tech football head coach in November of 2015, he expected to enjoy leisurely days of playing golf, taking naps and chasing grandkids.

But the 71-year-old has found himself almost as busy as he was when he was guiding the Hokies over a 29-year span from 1987-2015.

“I’m better when I’m busy anyway,” he laughed.

Beamer just concluded his first year of serving on the College Football Playoff selection committee, and he remains involved in Herma’s Readers, the charity that he started in honor of his late mother. From an athletics department perspective, though, his most important endeavor over the past 12 months has been spearheading the “Drive for 25” – the Hokie Club’s and the athletics department’s shared long-term initiative designed to increase membership into the Hokie Club to 25,000 members to help cover the rising costs of scholarships.

Today is the one-year anniversary of the launching of the “Drive for 25,” and Beamer serves as the campaign’s spokesperson. By all accounts, the first year has been a successful one, as membership in the Hokie Club stands at an all-time high of more than 13,000 members, and the last giving cycle saw Tech fans and alums contribute a record $16.2 million for scholarships.

“All I’ve ever wanted to do is see athletics continue to get bigger and better,” Beamer said. “I think we’ve got the right people in administration and with our coaches to get that done, and then I think by the amount of giving that you’ve seen, a lot of people agree with me. I think this really tells us, ‘Hey, full steam ahead and let’s go and continue to grow this thing and continue to be proud Hokies.’”

Beamer spent much of the past year attending events nationwide and promoting the “Drive for 25.” He attended events with Hokie Club staff members and AD Whit Babcock as far away as San Francisco and Dallas to reinforce the messaging – that the best way to help Virginia Tech Athletics is to contribute toward scholarships. His mere presence and his first-hand experiences with scholarships and the opportunities that they create speaks to the overall importance of the campaign.

The Hokie Club’s goal runs deeper than just raising money for scholarships. The overarching goal is to provide opportunities to those without the financial means to pay for them. Beamer understands that quite well.

As Tech’s football coach for 29 years, he saved many young men from uncertain futures by offering them scholarships. Plus, he himself came from a family with modest means, and his scholarship from Jerry Claiborne and his staff in the mid-1960s saved Beamer’s family from a heavy financial burden.

“I think my family would have found a way, but it [a scholarship] absolutely helps,” Beamer said. “Once you think about the cost of a four-year education, and then all of the sudden, you’re on scholarship – that’s a big day for the parents of a student-athlete. There is no doubt in my mind that my family would have found a way, but it certainly made things a lot easier. It was a proud day for me to be able to take that burden off of them.”

Beamer often refers to parents when making his appeal to prospective donors, many of whom are already parents with successful careers. Parents in lower-income families often lack the resources to send their children to colleges, so a scholarship helps not only the kid by providing an education, but also the entire family by alleviating a financial burden.

“From a real nuts and bolts perspective and from an actual financial deal, the family is often more appreciative than the kid at that point in time,” Beamer said.

Beamer, along with athletics department administrators and Hokie Club staff members, realize that the “Drive for 25” journey is in its infancy stages. The 25,000 number represents a lofty goal – if attained, the Hokie Club would be the biggest fundraising arm within the ACC – and each year, the Hokie Club staff not only needs to focus on adding new members, but also retaining current ones. That presents the obvious challenges.

But Beamer remains committed to helping. He stands committed to the game plan – no matter how long it takes – because he deeply believes in it.

“I’ve enjoyed it,” he said. “It’s a cause that I feel really strongly about and a school that I feel really strongly about.

“I’m proud that we’ve had great success, at least here initially. I know that we still have a long way to go, and there is work still to be done, so we’ll continue to work at it. It’s vital for us to fund those scholarships, and I’m honored to be a part of helping with that.”

Beamer’s CFP committee experience

Beamer concluded his first season of a three-year term on the College Football Playoff selection committee recently, as the 13-member panel chose Clemson, Oklahoma, Georgia, and Alabama as the four participants in the national championship playoff. Beamer was one of five former head coaches on the committee and enjoyed the experience.

“I think how detailed it is and how comprehensive it is really helps us to be confident that we’re getting it right,” he said. “It’s time consuming. After the halfway point of the football season, you’re spending every Monday afternoon and Tuesday morning in Dallas, and actually, I spent the whole last week [before the announcement] in Dallas. It’s time consuming, but it’s neat getting to know some of the other people there. There are coaches and athletic directors and people from different media outlets. It’s neat to get to know them better, too.”

Beamer, though, had a lot of free time on his hands. His son, Shane, coaches at Georgia, and the Bulldogs, who won the SEC title, were involved heavily in discussions. Committee rules called for Frank Beamer to recuse himself in that situation, which meant leaving the room not just when Georgia was discussed, but also when it came to the Bulldogs’ potential opponent.

“That’s the way it should be,” Beamer said. “I know it was a tough decision, and particularly when you’re picking 3, 4 and 5. That’s where it gets tough a little bit.”

Then he added, laughing, “But most of the time, I was outside of the room eating a donut and having some coffee.”

A lot of discussion centered on the committee’s decision to take Alabama, which did not win its division in the SEC and thus did not play for the SEC title, over Ohio State, which won the Big Ten. The committee’s decision to chose Alabama left many to speculate on the overall importance, or lack thereof, on the conference championship games.

In the end, Beamer felt that the committee selected the four best teams.

“You could debate it,” he said. “We debated it. We spent a lot of time trying to figure that whole thing out, but I personally think we got it right. There’s other people that could debate it the other way, and I fully understand.

“But that’s what is great about college football. You’re talking college football and who should do this and who should do that. As long as people are talking, there is a great interest in it and a great interest in the process. That’s a good a thing for college football – when people are talking about college football.”

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