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At one point during the Virginia Wesleyan men's basketball game last week, Joanne Renn stopped talking in mid-sentence, holding up a hand to a visitor that said, "Wait for it."
There was a timeout on the floor, and as a bouncy tune came over the speakers at the Jane P. Batten Student Center, Wesleyan's director of athletics broke into song.
Renn knew the words by heart. She had, after all, co-authored the lyrics for the school's catchy new fight song.
Renn, who has been at the school 19 years, the last seven as athletics director, says, "I had been thinking about a fight song forever."
Apparently, nobody else at the school had. Wesleyan, the small liberal arts college on the border of Virginia Beach and Norfolk, went almost 50 years without its own sports jingle.
The absence of a fight song didn't prevent Dave Macedo's Marlins from winning the Division III national men's basketball championship in 2006. But as college president Billy Greer says, "When you're as young as we are, you're looking for meaningful tradition. Slowly, we're getting some, and a fight song helps."
Renn knew what she wanted in the way of a song - the former Old Dominion basketball player played flute and piccolo in the Monarchs pep band in the '70s - but it was Bill Bishop, the local former sportscaster and public address announcer, who delivered the 42-second tune.
Bishop, who has sung in barbershop quartets and stages his own Sinatra tribute concerts, wrote what would become "On Virginia Wesleyan" after being disappointed by what he heard - or didn't hear - at a Marlins game.
"Goodness gracious," he remembers saying to himself, "this school does not appear to have a fight song to call its own."
Recalling his epiphany, the University of Michigan grad said, "I come from a part of the country where fight songs were an integral part of the culture. So I've always been fascinated by them. I've got several CDs of all sorts of fight songs."
Returning home from the game that night, Bishop "plunked out the notes" on a piano. "I batted out a short, spiffy tune in about 15 to 20 minutes," he said.
Because he says "fight songs are always running through my head," he later wrote two other versions for Wesleyan to consider.
That was at least seven years ago. At the time, a fight song wasn't a big priority at Wesleyan, so his tunes sat on the shelf.
About two years ago, Bishop revisited the idea, and he and Renn got the ball rolling on a process that led to a recording of the song by the Tidewater Winds Concert Band that was introduced to fans this school year.
What's still missing is a pep band to provide the song with a loud, brassy sound. Greer says he hopes to do something about that in time.
Renn and Bishop collaborated on two verses, though as Renn says, "Nobody ever sings the second verse of a fight song."
The opening stanza, then, goes like this:
On Virginia Wesleyan, on to victory
Let's go get 'em, Wesleyan, Let's make history
We're behind you Marlins, as we raise our voices high
M-A-R-L-I-N-S, Wesleyan do or die
VeeDUB, VeeDub, FIGHT, FIGHT, FIGHT
Wesleyan do or die.
"The problem is, we don't have a football team," said Renn. "The song doesn't really go with soccer; it doesn't really go with baseball. But we're jamming it down people's throats. It's going to take time to build the tradition."
It works best at basketball games, where cheerleaders and other students now have something to sing that's original to Wesleyan.
From his courtside seat at the last game, Greer threw back his head and sang the fight song with gusto.
He appeared to know all the words.
Bob Molinaro, 757-446-2373,
Hear Virginia Wesleyan's new fight song at PilotOnline.com.