Friday, September 04, 2009
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Sports columnist Aaron McFarling: 'Stack' not forgotten by Marching Virginians

At 10:30 a.m. today, they'll load the buses outside Lane Stadium and head south.

Virginia Tech's marching band members are leaving for Georgia a day earlier than usual. It's not for rehearsal or to ensure a good night's sleep before the big game.

For the Marching Virginians, the big game is tonight.

Letitie Clark hasn't heard the Marching Virginians play live since last season. That time, she traveled from her Georgia home to Blacksburg to see them.

Tonight, they come to her.

"To me, it's kind of like having Christmas and Thanksgiving together, when you bring all your family together," Clark said by phone this week from Evans, Ga. "It just gives me goosebumps."

The band was everything to her son. Well, almost everything. Ryan Clark had his hand in so many community projects, touched so many lives, that it's difficult to say which segment of the Tech campus took his death the hardest.

But Letitie, whose son was among the first victims of the campus shootings in 2007, knows how important the band was to Ryan.

"He loved the Marching Virginians just like he loved his birth family," she said. "Everything was about the Marching Virginians and Virginia Tech."

So tonight, on the eve of Tech's opener against Alabama in Atlanta, the buses will take a 140-mile detour. They'll pull into the parking lot at Lakeside High School, Ryan's alma mater. Out will climb some 350 band members, 20 cheerleaders and three members of the Tech Corps of Cadets color guard.

The Marching Virginians will join with the bands of Lakeside and visiting Evans High in producing one of the loudest renditions of "The Star Spangled Banner" ever heard.

At halftime of the Evans-Lakeside football game, the Marching Virginians will perform a similar routine to the one they have planned for Saturday night. But they also will deliver their version of "Amazing Grace" in honor of Ryan "Stack" Clark, who was a five-year member and personnel officer in the band.

"A lot of the older band members were here when all that occurred, so most of them knew Stack," said Dave McKee, director of the Marching Virginians. "So it's a great honor to go down there and do this. The folks down there have worked very hard to make this a wonderful, meaningful event."

The plan was hatched over the summer. Patty Weatherman, an officer for the Virginia Tech Central Savannah River Area Alumni Chapter in Georgia, worked closely with Lakeside principal Jeff Carney and others to help set it up. The chapter will be selling T-shirts, with proceeds going to Ryan's memorial scholarship fund.

Letitie will be there along with five or six of Ryan's other family members.

"All these events -- especially this one -- will be a blessing," she said. "But at the same time, you remember why you're there, and it causes your heart to just clinch.

"But knowing that they were willing to honor him in this way, to keep his legacy going on, to keep serving each other as well as him, it will be joyful."

Letitie, an avid football fan like her son, also will attend the Tech-Alabama matchup on Saturday.

But just like it is for the band, her big game is tonight.

"I thank the town of Blacksburg and Virginia Tech for everything," she said. "Ryan loves them, and I thank them for honoring him.

"I think Ryan would just be grinning with joy knowing that his band family there is going to meet some of his band family here. I think that would have pleased him to no end."

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