Ceremony recognized Tech’s first black scholarship student-athlete
Virginia Tech director of athletics Whit Babcock announced that in recognition of Jerry Gaines, the director of track and field/cross country office is officially named in his honor.
The Dr. Jeremiah “Jerry” Gaines Jr. ’71 Track and Field/Cross Country Director’s Office, which is located on the third floor of Cassell Coliseum, was unveiled during a special VIP dedication ceremony Monday morning.
Gaines opened the way for black athletes to compete in track and field as the first black full scholarship athlete at Virginia Tech. His school record in the outdoor long jump (24′ 10″ (7.57m)) stood until 2013, and his 120-yard hurdles record still stands at 14.1. Gaines graduated from Tech with a degree in Spanish in 1971.
“Virginia Tech, as much as anything, gave me validity – undeniable proof that I could indeed compete on this huge stage as well as anyone,” said Gaines. “A Virginia Tech class ring meant that I could stand alongside anyone, and never again have to endure those stares that might label me as anything less than ‘legitimate.’ It meant that I could not only function, but excel in any type of environment – academic, athletic, social, or any other.”
Gaines continued to excel after college, first serving in the Army as a second lieutenant. He then found his way back to the classroom as a high school Spanish teacher and coach. He was awarded coach of the year in 1987 by the Portsmouth Sports Club and was named teacher of the year in 1990. Gaines greatly influenced the lives of thousands of students before retiring in 2011.
“Great leadership is never a matter of lauding one’s power over others, but to help others to greatness in whatever endeavor they might choose to pursue in life,” said Gaines.
As one of only 20 black students on campus, he helped build a path for every black athlete to find greatness at Tech, standing against racism and prejudice in the classroom. With the support of family, teammates, coaches, and a special English teacher, Gaines learned the power of encouragement and the difference between success and significance.
“This is a significant honor for Jerry because it is a permanent reminder of what this amazing individual means to not just the athletics department at Virginia Tech but the entire university,” said director of track and field/cross country Dave Cianelli. “Every student-athlete who attends Virginia Tech will now know how much Jerry Gaines influenced their opportunity to attend Virginia Tech and be a student-athlete.”
In November of 1990, Gaines was the first black athlete inducted into the Virginia Tech Sports Hall of Fame. Although he continues to feel humbled by the recognition, he is well deserving of the honor as a seven-time conference champion and an eight-time national championship qualifier.
“I feel honored and blessed to have been given the opportunities to serve Ut Prosim,” said Gaines. “My life’s riches lie in the memories stored away in this old heart – gold coins that are represented by the thousands of individuals I have been blessed to meet and get to know.”
Virginia Tech Athletics