Virginia Tech supplies comfort to grieving parents

by Jenni Carlson Published: June 1, 2008
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ou wonder how you survive.”

Julie and Rusty tried to be strong for each other, but they found it difficult to lean on each other when both were struggling to stay on their feet. Even this spring, as a second softball season without Adrianne ticked away, Julie and Rusty struggled.

Then a few months ago, they happened to see Virginia Tech's game against the U.S. Olympic Team on television. They watched in awe like the rest of the softball world as Angela Tincher retired one Olympian after another and recorded the unlikeliest of no-hitters.

The Denneys were intrigued by Tincher and went online to read more about her. They found a story that told how Tincher and her father, Denny, spent hours and hours practicing in the driveway.

The Tinchers' story was their story.

Rusty decided to write them a letter, just to tell Angela that he knew how hard she had worked, but he never could find the words. So, when the NCAA Tournament field was announced, Rusty and Julie decided to drive seven hours to Tennessee to watch Virginia Tech.

Eventually, Julie summoned the strength to introduce herself to Angela's parents. She told them about Adrianne, how she'd practiced with her dad in the driveway, how she'd poured herself into the sport just like Angela.

A connection was made.

"I think we tugged at their hearts,” Rusty said, "and they comforted ours.”

Julie said: "We weren't going to stay, but then, they beat Tennessee and they were like, ‘You have to stay. You're our good luck charm.' ”

Rusty and Julie stayed for the rest of the regional games, then went to the super regional games at Michigan, then came to the Women's College World Series.

Even as the Virginia Tech family embraced them, buying them Hokie gear and getting them family-section seats, Rusty and Julie questioned their presence.

"What are we doing here?” they asked each other this week as they sat in another hotel room in another faraway place watching a team they hardly knew about three months ago. "Why are we doing this?”

The girls remind Rusty and Julie so much of Adrianne, her bouncy blond hair and her sparkling blue eyes. The games make them wonder what might have been.

This has been a painful journey.

But along the way, there has been healing. The Denneys reached out for help, and the Hokies embraced them. And even though Virginia Tech's run at the Women's College World Series ended on Saturday, their legacy will remain.

"They don't know what they did for us,” Julie said. "Just for them to be good to us, to visit with us was good.”

Rusty and Julie Denney are part of a team again.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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