While Hokies are gathering up their tailgate supplies and putting on their lucky game gear, the cadets of Skipper Crew are also packing up black powder charges and other essentials.
They will spend the next 10 hours or so hard at work with the Virginia Tech Corps of Cadets cannon, one of the iconic sights and sounds of Hokie football.
“Skipper is a staple of this university. Getting to be a part of that is awesome,” said Cadet Bri Jordan, a junior in Naval ROTC from Charlottesville, Virginia, majoring in international studies and Russian in the College of Liberal Arts and Human Sciences.
As gun captain, Jordan leads the 17-person Skipper Crew and is responsible for the safe operation and maintenance of the cannon.
Cadets can join this tight-knit group only during their freshmen years because of the amount of training and trust in each other needed to manage explosives and continue 54 years of tradition.
“One thing that we emphasize on Skipper Crew, especially during the freshman tapping process, is that everyone on Skipper Crew is family,” said Connor McNamara, a senior in Naval ROTC-Marine Option from Suffolk, Virginia, majoring in political science. “While we are working the long hours, it does not feel long or hard. We are a tight-knit group of people and we are always joking around and pushing each other, but we also get the job done.”
Game day begins in the early morning for the sophomore crew members, who ready the truck that will tow the cannon from its berth in Pearson Hall and roll the black powder charges that will be fired throughout the day.
The full team gathers about 4 1/2 hours before kickoff to make final preparations and load up the truck. They’re due at the Hokie Village fan festival before it opens three hours before kickoff.
Next, Skipper Crew members will travel into Lane Stadium to fire the cannon at the end of the national anthem.
“One of my personal favorite things about game day is the volume of the crowd after we fire our national anthem shot,” McNamara said. “There's no better feeling than hearing 60,000 Hokie fans roar at the same time after Skipper goes off.”
Afterward, the cadets rush out (as much as they can while pushing a cannon) to the practice field to fire every time the Hokies score. Here, they will work for the next four hours or so. They won’t be able to see the game, but fans will watch them through a video feed that appears on the scoreboard whenever they fire Skipper.
When the game ends, cadets must navigate the truck, the cannon, and themselves through the departing crowd to get back to Upper Quad, where they put in at least another hour unpacking gear and giving Skipper a thorough cleaning.
It’s hard work, but well worth the effort, Jordan said.
“The best part is getting to meet so many alumni who come up to us to talk about the cannon and tell us their stories,” she said.