Sports are a large part of the culture and identity at WVU and all throughout West Virginia.
Many in the state identify as a Mountaineer fan, regardless of whether they attended the University or not. When Milan Puskar Stadium fills up for football games, there is no other sight in the state like it.Without any professional sports teams or any other power five division one universities, WVU’s programs are the only big home teams that a lot of people in the state can cheer for.
For one weekend in 2001, however, WVU athletics was the farthest thing from anyone’s mind.
The 9/11 terrorist attacks brought the entire nation to a standstill.
Like so many others, WVU almost immediately canceled all athletic events, out of a combination of respect for the victims and concerns over security.
The sports editor for the Daily Athenaeum at the time was Colby McCarren. Over direct message, McCarren said sports were the last things on people’s minds following the attacks.
“The plane that crashed in Shanksville was also a reality check because of its proximity to Morgantown. I remember there being a sense of unity in the days afterward,” McCarren said. “Sports had really been put on the back burner by everyone. It was strange to cancel games, but it was also the obvious right thing to do. All major sporting events were all of a sudden potential targets so walking into stadiums or watching on television had an extra layer of apprehension and tension.”
Two women’s soccer matches, a men’s soccer game, a tennis invitational, a volleyball match and a cross country race were all canceled or postponed in response. The biggest cancelation was that of WVU’s football game at the University of Maryland scheduled for that Saturday, Sept. 15.
Ed Pastilong, WVU’s athletic director at the time, said in a press release that WVU and Maryland came to a mutual agreement to postpone the contest until Sept. 29.
“Out of respect for those affected by these enormous tragedies and out of concern for the members of our teams, all Big East schools have decided to suspend competition through the weekend, and we wholeheartedly support that,” Pastilong wrote. “This is a time to focus on our nation as Americans.”
The Big East, WVU’s conference at the time, commissioner, Michael Tranghese, echoed this sentiment.
Tranghese was quoted in the Sept.13, 2001 edition of the Daily Athenaeum as saying, “The overwhelming feeling throughout our institutions is that we must move on with our lives and terrorist actions will not stop us from doing that. But the suspension of league competition through the weekend allows us an appropriate period of reflection and mourning.”
The days and weeks following the 9/11 attacks were anything but normal for all Americans, and the cancellation of sporting events hammered home the abnormality of it all. There was hope that, when sports did come back, then society could return to some semblance of normalcy.
In a column in the Sept. 13, 2001 edition of the Daily Athenaeum, Associate Sports Editor Matt Gatewood wrote the following, “Whenever competitions are returned, however, they will provide a forum for people to attempt to get back to their everyday lives. If only for a few hours, the competitions can keep the fans’ minds occupied and away from Tuesday’s Horrors...Not that attending and watching sporting events will ever soothe any pain, but it can provide some short-term relief.”
WVU athletics eventually did come back. A 31-14 victory over Kent State at home the following week and the make-up against Maryland on Sept. 29 brought WVU football back into people’s lives and brought back the routines of life.
McCarren, however, said it was never quite the same feeling as before.
“There was a sense of normalcy, but it was different than it had been before,” McCarren said. “There was a sense of community that would probably be inconceivable in today’s hyper-partisan environment. We may have sensed it at the time, but nothing would ever be the same.”
McCarren said, even today, sporting events feel different to him.
“It’s never been the same,” McCarren said. “In that sense the attacks were tremendously successful. No normal person could experience 9/11 and then walk into a stadium of 60k+ people with the same confidence as they had on September 10th 2001.”