The birthday girl is wearing a little brown and white polka-dot outfit. It’s her third birthday party, but she won’t let anyone be happy about it.
“All day, she won’t let anyone say ‘happy birthday’ to her,” says Cheryl Beamer, wife of esteemed Virginia Tech head coach Frank Beamer. “No smiling, no singing.”
It’s a Sunday afternoon and friends and family of the Beamers have gathered to celebrate the birthday of Olivia Beamer, youngest daughter of associate head coach and running backs coach, Shane Beamer.
They’ve chosen a make-your-own cookie shop in downtown Radford, and Olivia, her sister Sutton and their little friends are decorating paper chef hats to wear.
The girls are drinking chocolate milk out of mason jars with chocolate chip cookie lids and straws poked through them. Cheryl hovers over the table, helping her granddaughters and chatting with their friends.
Shane and Frank are standing by the television, aptly tuned to the Masters golf tournament. Frank nibbles on a cookie, despite his recent concentration on his health. “You don’t come to a cookie shop and not eat a cookie,” he says, joking.
A few times throughout the party, the shellshock sets in. I’m at an intimate family gathering of the head coach of Tech’s football team.
It was only less than a week ago that I sat down with Cheryl to talk a little about herself and her close-knit family.
The nervous feeling doesn’t last long though. The radiant nature of the family easily sets it to rest.
“Family’s the center of our universe,” Cheryl said. “We’re just normal. We really are.”
She’s modest. While they may be normal, the Beamer family, with the humble guidance of their matriarch, is nothing short of an exemplary showcase of the power of familial strength and support.
“We got married in ’72 on April Fools Day,” Cheryl said. We sat outside of Panera Bread on University City Boulevard as she told me about meeting her husband.
It was 45 years ago that Cheryl and the then-senior cornerback started dating.
Cheryl was in Blacksburg with her parents, visiting her sister and brother-in-law — a teammate of Frank’s at the time. Tired of sitting home during the visits, Cheryl asked her brother-in-law to help get her a date for the next time she was in town.
“They literally handpicked (Frank) out of the media guide,” she said. “(He was) somebody that would be nice, and it worked out great. We dated four years before we got married.”
From there, the young couple moved to Maryland for Frank’s job as a graduate assistant at the University of Maryland.
“He was making $150 a month,” Cheryl recalled. “And this is a true story, we went to sign a lease for an apartment in Maryland and … our rent was going to be $189 a month. And the lady, she had glasses on the end of her nose, she looked over, saw what he was making and she shook her head no. My parents happened to be up there with us and Mom and Daddy came in and cosigned our lease so we could get our apartment.
“We’ve come a long way, we like to tell people,” she said, laughing.
After Maryland, the Beamers moved around following coaching jobs from the Citadel in South Carolina to Murray State in Kentucky before settling down in Blacksburg.
“His heart’s here, he’ll retire here,” Cheryl said of her husband. “He played here, both our children went to school here, most of his nieces and nephews went to school here — this is home to us.”
His first few seasons were rough however, as Tech was unable to sustain a winning record until 1993.
“You know it’s funny. I tell people this and they don’t believe me. Those first five years were actually easier than it is now because people are so spoiled with the success Tech has had,” Cheryl said. “Now, you just feel like you can never win enough to make them happy. Those first years, they were hungry.”