The Roanoke College mascot. Courtesy of Roanoke College.
The Roanoke College mascot. Courtesy of Roanoke College.

See our previous story about how Roanoke College is rebranding itself.

It was more than a connection to Virginia Tech that made a return to football enticing for new Roanoke College President Frank Shushok, who announced Thursday that the school would add football, competitive cheerleading and marching band programs.

“I’ve been to a lot of schools where football and other sports, for that matter, are really important to the culture of a place,” Shushok said in a Thursday interview. 

Roanoke College President Frank Shushok. Courtesy of Roanoke College.
Roanoke College President Frank Shushok. Courtesy of Roanoke College.

“I went to school at Baylor University, I have a master’s degree from Ohio State University and a Ph.D. from the University of Maryland and worked 13 years at Virginia Tech. 

“They had football programs. That’s for sure.”

He was sitting in his office in Blacksburg shortly after the announcement that he would be the new Roanoke College president and a package arrived at his desk that had a football in it.

“Really, I was very excited to come to a Division III school,” Shushok said, “because I love the way Division III positions athletics as a complement to the overall student experience.”

Roanoke College has not had a football program since 1942 but Salem has a stadium impressive enough to hold the Division III national championship.

Athletics, in general, were hardly obscured.

“Roanoke College has three national championships — two team championships and one individual championship,” Shushok said. “That’s pretty remarkable. Any one of our programs is essentially another classroom, where the main subject is leadership, character, and citizenship.

“So, the opportunity to think about football was really a question of how could we increase the number of opportunities for students to be student scholar-athletes.”

Roanoke also has added competitive cycling and wrestling of late. (See our previous story.)

“I didn’t have a predetermined decision that we would start football when I became a president,” Shushok said. “I knew it was something that some people were interested in and had been batted around for a long time.

“A feasibility study really offered the opinion that this was doable and potentially was a good thing for Roanoke College and especially our connection to the local community, Salem and the Roanoke Valley. It seemed like ‘win, win, win.’ “

He couldn’t be happier with the facilities, describing the Cregger Center, home to Roanoke College basketball and other teams, as “second to none” in Division III and says the outdoor facilities are “eye-popping.”

He didn’t have a full tour until he was a finalist for the presidency.

“The more people that come onto this campus, the better, because they’ll be blown away by the kind of education and experience and facilities that we offer. I think football is one more opportunity to invite people to the campus.

“We also want to be the fan favorite in the Roanoke Valley, so the more sports that we offer, the more opportunities to support our student athletes, the better.”

While he was around a powerhouse football program during his days at Virginia Tech, that wasn’t all.

About Roanoke College football

The plan: To recruit 50 football players, 50 marching band members, 30 competitive cheerleaders.

Athletic scholarships: None. Roanoke College will play at the non-scholarship Division III level.

The background: In April, the Roanoke College board approved adding football, marching band and cheerleaders if $1.2 million could be raised.

The fundraising: The school has exceeded its goal with $1.3 million. Of that, $300,000 came from corporate sponsors in the Roanoke Valley.

First games: Roanoke College expects to play its first games in fall 2024, with a full schedule in the Old Dominion Athletic Conference in fall 2025.

Facilities: Alumni Field will be used for practice and the Bast Center will be upgraded to accommodate locker rooms, training facilities, offices and a weight room. Games will be played at Salem Stadium.

“I grew up in Texas,” he said, “and my high school won the state championship when I was a senior. I was not on the team. I’m more of a fan than a player but I’ve been around it all my life.”

He went to McKinney High School outside Houston.

“Even though I didn’t play football, I’ve been around it,” said Shushok, noting the diversity of people it attracts.

“We’re just not starting football at Roanoke College. We’re starting football and launching a marching band and investing in competitive cheer. It’s a package.”

Roanoke College hasn’t chosen a football coach to this point, but Curtis Campbell from Morehouse College in Atlanta has come to Salem as Roanoke College’s new athletic director.

Campbell grew up in Pulaski County and should know his way around the Roanoke Valley.

“His first assignment will be to determine a timeline and process for selecting a football coach,” Shushok said. “I want someone who can be successful on the field but also can motivate our students to be successful in life.

“The goal is, next year, that we would recruit our first 50 players and that we would start in fall of 2024 playing some games. I don’t expect, unless I’m surprised, that we will start a full ODAC schedule until fall of 2025.”

Doug Doughty has been writing for more than 50 years starting as a high school student in Washington,...