|Tuesday, October 6
Updated: October 7, 2:59 PM ET
Virginia Tech's Hokie Stone
By John Crowley
What do the geology department and the football team at Virginia Tech share?
C'mon now, this isn't a bad setup for another dumb jock joke.
Strangely, it is a fascination with a unique category of limestone that has come symbolize the largest university in the Commonwealth of Virginia.
From the laboratory to the locker room, they call it Hokie Stone.
But it's more than just a rock.
"It's actually a kingsport dolomite, a limestone that's rich in calcium and magnesium," said Bill Henika, an adjunct professor at the university and a geologist with the Virginia Department of Mines, Minerals & Energy. "It's a part of the southern Appalachians. You'll find it on just about any building on campus."
The multi-colored stone is also a part of a longstanding tradition for Hokies players. A 3-foot slab is embedded atop the archway exit in the players tunnel at Lane Stadium/Worsham Field.
It's been there since the stadium was built in 1965. And every player who's ever taken the field in the Hokies' maroon and orange has reached up and touched it as he emerged from the narrow tunnel to the sound of thousands of cheering fans.
"It stands for the work ethic that goes into each week," said senior defensive tackle and native Virginian Jason Buckland, "all the work in practice, the weight room, the classroom. When you reach up and touch that piece of stone it puts that all effort in one place, and you know you're ready to play your best game.
"It symbolizes what Virginia Tech is all about."
Harvard has The Yard. And at UC-Berkeley, it's Sproul Plaza. But at Virginia Tech, the images that speak to students and alumni alike are found all over campus.
From the oldest buildings, like the YMCA Building, built in 1899, to the gleaming and new Merryman Athletic Center, you'll find Hokie Stone.
Its unique hue and texture has been the signature architectural image since the days it was first carved from a quarry found on the Blacksburg, Va. campus.
It gives the school a classic look, the kind of place where students gather on a vast lawn between classes, where trees gently shed their leaves in the fall and austere stone structures look on in silence.
Henika said that the stone is about 300 million years old, and unique to southern Virginia, parts of Tennessee and Alabama. Whereas most limestone is gray, Hokie Stone has its own unique palette; pinks, reds, grays, browns and blacks can be found in its smooth surface.
Tech actually runs its own quarry, Henika said, a tie to the school's original mission as a land-grant institution whose programs were based on agriculture and the earth sciences.
"It's become a tradition," he said. "Hokie Stone is Virginia Tech, and Virginia Tech is Hokie Stone. It started when the school was looking for an alternative to brick construction and it was material that was available right on campus. But now it's something that when people think about their alma mater, they think of the look and feel of the buildings."
This year Virginia Tech is off to a 4-0 start, ranked 15th in the ESPN/USA Today poll, and No. 17 by the AP. That alone is enough to get former grads misty-eyed and reminiscing. But the Hokie Stone is something in which they take equal pride.
"I saw all the players touching it on my recruiting visit," Buckland said. "I found out about it on my first day at Virginia Tech."
It's something he'll remember long after his last.