Williams: Saturday’s Game Offers Opportunity for UVA Community To Heal Together

September 7, 2023 By Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu Andrew Ramspacher, fpa5up@virginia.edu

Carla Williams took a moment to reflect last week while sharing a plane with members and supporters of the University of Virginia football program.

The Cavaliers were officially en route to Nashville to begin the 2023 season with a game against the University of Tennessee, and Williams, UVA’s athletics director, paused to soak in that significance.

“I was just thinking, ‘We are on a plane going to play a football game,’” Williams said. “It was hard to wrap my mind around the fact we were there to actually do that.”

It was another step in the healing process for a program, school and community that was rocked by the Nov. 13 shootings on Grounds that took the lives of football players Devin Chandler, Lavel Davis Jr. and D’Sean Perry, and injured teammate Mike Hollins and UVA student Marlee Morgan.

The Wahoos played a game last Saturday – their first since the tragedy – and this Saturday, they’ll play another one, but this time in front of their fans who have rallied behind them over these trying last 10 months.

UVA hosts James Madison University at noon at Scott Stadium. A large crowd is expected, as the first 35,000 fans to enter the stadium will receive UVA Strong shirts. The north end zone will feature a UVA Strong logo along with the names and numbers of Chandler, Davis and Perry. The tribute will remain in place for the duration of the season.

Williams said the Chandler, Davis and Perry families are scheduled to attend.  

For those in the stands, the game could cause a range of emotions, anything from fervently cheering on the Hoos against an in-state opponent to looking around and still grieving the loss of three special individuals.

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“I think it’s an opportunity to continue the healing and also to celebrate,” Williams said on this week’s Wahoo Central Podcast with Jeff White, UVA Athletics’ director of news content. “It’s been a really hard 10 months, but I think that we’ve made some really good progress toward healing, so I think this weekend gives us another opportunity to heal.

“And it gives our fans and our supporters, our students, faculty, student-athletes, coaches – so many people – an opportunity to be a part of the healing as a collective.”

The gratitude comes with the game itself.

“We celebrate because it’s a blessing to be able to cheer for our team,” Williams said. “It’s a blessing for our team to be able to compete in front of fans and their families.”

Williams is particularly grateful for the football team’s resilience under the leadership of head coach Tony Elliott.

“This has been incredibly difficult for them because these were their brothers and they were close to the families [of Chandler, Davis and Perry],” Williams said. “I’m just so proud of them because they chose to stay when they could have transferred. They could have left, but they chose to stay and go through this together.”

In last week’s loss to Tennessee, Hollins, a running back who was wounded in November’s shooting, played and carried the ball three times.

“He’s such an inspiration to keep going, to keep fighting, to persevering, to keep pushing,” Williams said. “And so when you see Mike, you think, ‘My goodness, if he can do it, then certainly we can do it.’”

In addition to the game, Williams is encouraging all fans to attend the various other events in place this weekend as UVA continues to commemorate Chandler, Davis and Perry, including Friday’s tree planting at the Betsy and John Casteen Arts Grounds and Saturday morning’s Wahoo Walk along Whitehead Road outside Scott Stadium.

“I think we have worked really hard to show the families that we won’t ever forget their sons,” Williams said. “And that’s been really important to them that we show we will remember them, and their legacies will live on at UVA and in the Charlottesville community. So, the ceremonies that we are having here in Charlottesville are just examples of that promise.”

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Assistant Athletics Director for Media Relations