For the first time since 2019, the Leadership Institute at Virginia Tech has decided to restart its annual summer trip, with this year’s trip taking place in the nation’s capital.
“The purpose of this trip was to allow our student-athletes to make the connection between service and sport,” said Cameron Spera, who is Virginia Tech’s Senior Director, Student-Athlete Leadership. “Washington, DC has a rich history and culture of sports teams at all levels engaging with their community to bring about meaningful change, and it was the perfect setting for this opportunity.”
A group of student-athletes — six in total — and two Athletic Department employees were in Washington, D.C., Wednesday and Thursday to impact young people, network with professional sports team personnel, and learn more about the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial.
Emma Thumb (Swimming and Diving)
Sara Killinen (Athletics)
Grace New (The Crosse)
Jaden Payoute (Soccer)
paige tyson (The Crosse)
David Whitfield (Athletics and cross-country)
Cameron Spera (Senior Director, Student-Athlete Leadership Development)
Dany White (Senior Associate Athletic Director, Student-Athlete Services/University Affairs)
To begin the trip on Wednesday, the Hokies traveled to the Washington Nationals Youth Academy, where the DC Grays play. The Grays are part of MLB’s RBI program, an initiative to revive youth baseball and softball in inner cities.
After meeting with Grays staff and hearing stories about the pre-MLB move, it didn’t take long for the group to realize just how badly they had it at the college level.
“I think what I take away the most from this trip comes from our experience with the DC Grays and the RBI program,” Tyson said. “It was like a reality check and a reminder that not everyone has access to the same sports resources. We learned that at some point before the DC Grays arrived, the children of college across the street had to share gloves and leave them after practice so they couldn’t even fish at home.
“I think sometimes we forget how lucky we are when we get to a high level, like college sports, where we’re surrounded by a lot of people who didn’t necessarily lack access to sports growing up. J hope to continue to support children like the ones we met and make an impact.”
The Hokies were able to hold a clinic for the kids, from different activity stations to explaining some rules of the game of baseball, but not before everyone had taken part in one of Tech’s greatest traditions – jump to Enter Sandman.
After the clinic, the group attended the Grays’ game against the Gaithersburg Giants. The two teams compete in the Cal Ripken League, a college summer wooden bat league.
Tech started Thursday morning by heading to the Washington Commanders Training Center in Ashburn and was able to watch some OTA (Organized Team Activities) training, before meeting with front office staff, head coach Ron Rivera and a few fellow Hokies, including current players Kendall Fuller, Joey Slye and Logan Thomas.
For most, it was their highlight of the two-day outing.
“My favorite part of the trip was talking to Virginia Tech alumni from the Washington Commanders after practice,” Whitfield said. “Being able to talk to them about the similarities within our student-athlete background was awesome, and hearing about their transition from VT to the NFL was also very interesting and inspiring.”
“It was really cool to bond with them over similar Cochrane experiences living in new facilities,” Tyson said. “I also enjoyed hearing how much they’ve grown since joining the NFL, and hearing how they now have a broader platform and ability to impact their community.”
After their discussion about community involvement and causes important to COs, the group went to the Martin Luther King Jr. Memorial and got it all figured out. The group was tasked with thinking about a few things ahead of time, including how to create social networks. change and how service and sport can impact a community.
MLK’s influence and leadership are still felt today, and the band’s time participating in various activities in the nation’s capital gives them plenty to think about as they return to their normal routines.
“One aspect that I plan to implement at Blacksburg is the idea of inclusion,” Whitfield said. “Specifically, the idea of involving everyone and being on the same page to achieve something special.”