At least 33 are dead. Among the casualties were many college students.

Monday's tragedy at Virginia Tech strikes close to home and much too close for comfort for many reasons. For one, the victims are our peers. It's entirely possible someone from your high school went to Virginia Tech. Although UW and Virginia Tech are thousands of miles apart, we are all part of one fraternity of college students. The students cheering for the Hokies on football Saturday all listen to iPods, go to house parties and waste countless hours on Facebook just like we do.

But nothing about the Virginia Tech shootings is as sobering or scary as the realization that it could have just as easily happened here in Madison as in Blacksburg, Va.

When it comes down to it, there is not all that much difference between the two schools. While the curricula, professors and buildings are not at all the same, the fact is that in a pair of super-sized state schools, the only major difference is location.

It took only one person to break the peace, tranquility and deep sense of safety at Virginia Tech. It took only one person to end the lives of 33 people, most of them probably students just like you and me.

Such a heinous act could just as easily occur at the University of Miami, at Texas Tech, Oregon or even here at Wisconsin. On some level we all realize that, which is what makes the horrible events of yesterday so frightening.

The same collegiate generation that had to live through Columbine and the constant fear of senseless violence in high school will now have to watch and see how the landscape of collegiate education changes in light of the massacre at Blacksburg.

It will undoubtedly be a gut-wrenching and difficult time to be a college student, and of course the Virginia Tech campus will feel it most. Classes are currently scheduled to resume Wednesday. The date for lives there to return to normalcy is still to be determined.

This is where this column finally reaches its ultimate point: In the long road to getting back to normal, whether on a local, regional or national level, sports can help.

Be it Columbine, 9/11 or the Kennedy assassination, sports have always helped in the healing process of America, and the same can very well be true here.

In times of tragedy like this, the importance of sports simultaneously takes a backseat, and yet it is never more important. The playoff race in the NBA, the upcoming NFL Draft and the remarkably surreal life of Ricky Williams are clearly not as important as they seem to be when all is right in the world. However, a simple game right now is a simple and totally effective means of taking someone's mind off the bad things going on around him or her.

If for only a couple hours a fan can forget about what is happening in the real world, and instead find joy or comfort within the 100-yard gridiron or the baseball diamond, then that game has real value.

Sports help remind people that it is OK to be happy again, to cheer and that things will get better. The hurt will fade. Though, like the memory, it will never die.

All the members of the Hokies football team are reportedly accounted for. You can rest assured when the Virginia Tech football team first takes the field at Lane Stadium in August, the game will not simply be seen as the 2007 home opener. It will be a chance for the school to come together and symbolically put the horrible events of April 16 behind them, yet remember the fallen.

Between now and then, baseball, horseracing and the NBA playoffs will be there, promising a few minutes worth of distractions and helping the healing process for those at Virginia Tech and everyone else touched by yesterday's tragedy all across the country.

It's nothing that can ever lessen the impact or tragedy of the deaths of the students in Blacksburg.

But it's a start.

Dave McGrath is a senior majoring in English and journalism. You can reach him at [email protected]

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