I wrote a story that ran Saturday in Roanoke and today in Norfolk about long-time Hokies booster Wes Worsham‘s annual salute to an old Army friend. The two promised they would share a beer together on the Yalu River in Korea but fate intervened and they never got the chance. So Worsham goes to his gravesite every Aug. 10 — both of their birthdays — to have that beer.
Essentially, Worsham discovered Virginia Tech because of his old friend, Arthur Fleet, who was a Blacksburg native. Over time, he became one of the program’s most ardent supports and influential donors.
As is usually the case with stories like this, there’s too much stuff to fit into the story that goes in the paper (even though it was 60 inches or so). Mostly, the stuff I had to leave on the cutting-room floor was about what a big Virginia Tech fan Worsham is, so I figured I’d throw that on the blog.
The 80-year-old Worsham is, to put it simply, a super fan. Probably the biggest Hokies fan I have encountered to date. He and his wife Janet have backed it up with their wallet, donating more than $2 million in their lives to Virginia Tech, including lifetime scholarship donations in four of their children’s names to the school. Their kids are all Tech grads.
I mentioned Worsham’s attire in the story. It’s what makes him recognizable on the sideline. Worsham wears a maroon VT hat and blazer, a Hokie-themed tie and custom-made pants that are khaki with little Hokie birds sewn on them. He’s owned three pairs of those pants in his many years of boosterism, wearing them until they fall apart (he wore the seat out of the first pair, which he donated to a bar).
His house, which sits on the water on the tip of Kilmarnock on the Northern Neck, is a shrine to Virginia Tech. His cars are maroon, of course. He has two boats. One, a 38-footer, is nicknamed the “Wild Wes III,” the other, a small fishing boat, he had fitted with Hokies-colored upholstery. He named it the “Happy Hokie.”
His yard is quite literally a Worsham Field. After the Lane Stadium field was named in his honor in 1992, he had a patch of the grass shipped out to his home. He’s since taken small bits of it and planted it around his property, so his entire yard has grown in as Lane Stadium turf.
Inside, there’s Hokies memorabilia everywhere. Entering his front door, you’re greeted by a miniature Hokies bird statue dressed like Worsham on the sidelines. It was donated to him by Craig and Mindy Arnold. His living room has a picture from the Virginia Tech locker room when a svelte, dark-haired Frank Beamer is announcing to the team that Worsham made his large donation. The year they renamed the field in Worsham’s honor, Tech went 2-8-1, so it was no bandwagon donation.
“I figured they need it,” Worsham said.
He has rings, 18 of them, from bowl games and ACC championships, in a case in his living room. Most are big and gaudy, something you can’t reasonably wear on your fingers. There is one exception — the 2000 BCS national championship runner-up one he wears proudly.
Worsham has befriended every Virginia Tech coach over the years, going back to Jimmy Sharpe and Bill Dooley. After becoming successful in the fire protection/sprinkler business, he began making donations (and getting better seats to Hokies games). He and Dooley were extremely close. While Worsham was working on a donation back in the day, their two families vacationed together for a week. Dooley never mentioned that he was getting fired by Tech. Worsham thinks it was so he would make his donation to the school anyway, whether or not he was the coach.
After Beamer was hired, he had a rough start at Tech. Some people asked Worsham what he thought of the new coach.
“I said, ‘I don’t know if Frank will ever be the coach Bill Dooley is or not, but I know Bill Dooley will never be the man Frank is,’” Worsham said.
Beamer obviously turned things around, and Worsham, who was a backer from the beginning, had a front-row seat. He buys a luxury box and 24 tickets for his extended family at each game. (A creature of habit, he used to stay in the same room — 107 — of the Best Western in Blacksburg the night before games for 30 years before it was torn down.)
At home games, he stands on the sidelines for the first and fourth quarters, going up to the box for the middle two. On road games, he toughs it out on the field for the entire game. He used to run out on the field with the team but has since retired that practice. He’s missed five games in the last 27 years.
Worsham asks Beamer every year if he still wants him to travel with the team and stand on the sidelines. He hasn’t said no.
“He says, ‘We’ve been to a bowl game every year since. You think we’re going to change that now?’” Worsham said.
In the late ’90s, the team decided to give out the Wes Worsham Award to the top player from every game the Hokies won. They decided to do it in the locker room right once the contest concluded. After the first game, director of operations John Ballein came running up to Worsham.
“Well, who did you pick?” he said.
“Hell, I thought y’all were going to pick him and tell me,” Worsham responded.
On the spot, Worsham went with defensive end Corey Moore in that first game. Worsham and his wife have since taken notes during games to pick out a winner.
Worsham has had several favorites players over the years. Michael Vick and John Engelberger stand out. He and Engelberger still go clay shooting and fishing together.
He’s partial to Logan Thomas right now. Thomas spent plenty of time on the sideline his first two years, so Worsham got to know him well. At the end of one game, Tech was lining up for a field goal. Worsham noticed the wind swirling. He, being about 6 feet tall, figured the 6-foot-6 Thomas would have a better sense of the wind.
“I says, ‘How’s the weather up there, Logan?’” Worsham said, laughing at the memory. “He grabbed me by the arms and held me up there and said, ‘You tell me!’”
Worsham is predicting big thing this year for Thomas, who he said has the kind of strength that Jim Druckenmiller did many years ago.
“I think that Logan is going to make a name for himself as well as Tech,” Worsham said. “He is good. He’s a good person too.”
As for his favorite Virginia Tech memories, there are probably too many to recount, but one sticks out.
“My best memory of all, no question about it, was at West Virginia when we kicked that field goal in the last three seconds to beat them by two [in 1999],” he said. “And I was on the sideline and Michael Vick comes running up and got the first down and started to get the first down, and he was running like that and he made a cut like he was going to run out of bounds and the guys let up chasing him, hoping the clock would run out, and he darted up the sidelines and got in field goal range. He got another 10 yards. And Shayne Graham kicked a field goal. That was the best game.”