We are stronger together – The Virginian-Pilot — Virginia

Most Thanksgiving weekends, the eyes of the commonwealth turn to Charlottesville or Blacksburg for the annual clash of the two most important football programs in Virginia. But on Saturday, the University of Virginia Cavaliers will not play the Virginia Tech Hokies as scheduled.

The game was canceled after the tragic Nov. 13 shooting that claimed the lives of three UVA football players and left two others in critical condition. But even without the excitement of the annual competition, we should hold the memory of these student-athletes alive this weekend and show our collective support for a commonwealth in distress.

A few weeks ago, the annual “Commonwealth Clash” seemed almost destined to be forgotten. Both teams struggled through disappointing seasons. Neither can qualify for a postseason bowl. The game only mattered to the students, alumni and fans, who would never miss an opportunity to outshine their opponents.

Other Virginia football programs – James Madison University, Old Dominion University and Liberty University – can all contend for the title of best team in the state. The high-profile teams of the Atlantic Coast Conference no longer strike terror into the hearts of these upstarts, who line up against them without fear.

This is great for the commonwealth, of course. It’s exciting for the schools and businesses surrounding the bustling stadiums on fall weekends. And it gives more opportunities for higher education to students whose careers will not progress beyond the college level.

But there’s something special about a rivalry that stretches back 127 years, with schools that, by the nature of their location, traditions and academic focus, could hardly be more different. It’s a sibling fight every year and there’s nothing wilder.

But here is the thing about a brother. Apart from fights and arguments, no one loves harder and bonds more closely than brothers and sisters. They may poke fun at each other and laugh at each other’s expense, but the desire to best them at every turn is a powerful motivator. It is fuel to succeed.

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So when one hurts, the other provides comfort, support, empathy and strength.

The commonwealth witnessed this in 2007, when a Virginia Tech student shot 50 classmates and instructors, killing 32, in the worst campus mass shooting in American history. Across the nation, communities expressed their horror and sympathy for Blacksburg and Virginia Tech, but arguably none more powerful than the outburst from Charlottesville and UVA.

Now, the roles are reversed. Virginia experienced a terrible tragedy this month, one that no campus or community should have to deal with. Virginia Tech moved quickly to support its peers, from lighting the administration building in UVA’s signature blue and orange to displays by Hokies athletic teams in solidarity with the Hoos.

It was hoped that, if played, Saturday’s game could be an opportunity for healing and grieving and could provide a platform to celebrate the memories of the remarkable young men lost to gun violence. Devin Chandler, Lavelle Davis Jr. and De’Sean Perry were football players, yes, but also dedicated students, much-loved sons and brothers, social activists and campus leaders.

What dreams would they be chasing if this didn’t happen? What would they have accomplished? How would they have made the world a better place? These questions always haunt the aftermath of deadly violence, especially when the victims have so much of their lives ahead of them.

There is an investigation to be conducted — more than one, in fact. And many questions that need answers. These must come and the commonwealth must respond constructively.

But in the absence of the annual game, this weekend should focus on healing, compassion and the memories of these young men. This tragedy happened at the University of Virginia, but the entire commonwealth is feeling it, and even without the game this weekend, UVA should know it won’t have to walk this difficult road alone.

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