Virginia Tech Magazine
Winter 2008
The Drillfield
Virginia Tech Special Collections
The Drillfield: At the heart of campus
by Clara B. Cox M.A. '84

Aerial view of Virginia Tech

An oval-shaped, grassy stretch of land bordered by trees, Virginia Tech's Drillfield serves as the center of the Blacksburg campus and remains one of the most unique and storied locations at the university. Since 1894, the Drillfield has been the site of cadet maneuvers, sporting events, demonstrations, and displays of campus unity. Now, thousands of people come into contact with the Drillfield each day, students and faculty rushing to class crossing paths with visitors strolling around the central campus. Most of these individuals know that the Drillfield is an integral part of the Virginia Tech experience--but few know more than that.

Sheib Field

The property that includes the Drillfield was acquired by Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College (VAMC, now Virginia Tech) in the late 19th century and initially was part of the horticulture farm. In 1894, VAMC President John M. McBryde offered a section of the area located in front of present-day Eggleston and War Memorial halls for use by both the military and athletic departments. According to Harry Temple in The Bugle's Echo, the small, ungraded area was "plowed, harrowed, and rolled, leaving the area raw, stony earth." It became known as Sheib Field, named for Edward E. Sheib, a professor of English and history who helped to financially support the football team.

With the exception of tennis, all organized outdoor sports used the field, and its high side on the north became a favorite spot for spectators to sit. Temple says that in the first football season on the field, "the players spent much of their time during pauses in play gathering and removing stones from the surface."

Through the years, the field was gradually improved and enlarged. Virginia Agricultural and Mechanical College and Polytechnic Institute (Virginia Tech's second name, which was shortened popularly to VPI) added a quarter-mile track around it in 1900 and, the following year, extended the track about 200 yards westward. The expansion of the field itself provided the corps of cadets with adequate space for its exercises. Occasionally, the area was also the scene of bonfires, a part of celebrations for everything from George Washington's birthday to a memorable Thanksgiving weekend and, later, pep rallies.

Gibboney Field

The college enlarged Sheib Field again in 1902 and erected a small wooden grandstand beside the track, which was extended to half a mile in circumference. The name of the site was changed to Gibboney Field in honor of James Haller Gibboney, the first graduate manager of athletics. Two years later, permanent bleachers, which seated 1,200 spectators, were constructed with funds supplied by the student newspaper, The Virginia Tech, specifically for that purpose. Student enrollment at the time was just under 730.

To celebrate the improvements, the senior class took on the faculty in a baseball game, which the seniors won 9-8. Class versus class competitions in football were also held on Gibboney Field, beginning in 1904. In the first inter-class contests, the sophomores beat the freshmen 29-0, and the juniors-seniors game ended in a scoreless tie. In the play-offs, the freshmen defeated the juniors, and the sophomores whipped the seniors, making the second-year students the champions for that year.

Gibboney Field underwent another remodeling in 1906, thanks to support from alumni and undergraduate fees. The $1,600 project provided a 550-foot-by-350-foot field for football and baseball and an even longer oval track around the perimeter.

Miles Field

Aerial view of Virginia Tech
Virginia Tech Special Collections

With substantial improvements in 1909 that included an enlarged grandstand and leveling and top-dressing--from three to nine inches of soil--the field underwent another name change: Miles Field, nicknamed Miles Meadow. The new namesake, Clarence Paul "Sally" Miles, was one of those rare individuals who had a seemingly unlimited supply of talent and skills. A VPI alumnus who had been captain of both the baseball and football teams, he was, at various times during his long career, business manager of the college newspaper, graduate manager of the Athletic Association, treasurer of the college, coach of the baseball and football teams, director of athletics, and a professor of modern languages, holding some of these jobs simultaneously.

The first game on the improved and newly named field was a gridiron battle against Princeton, who squeaked by with a field goal in the final minute of play.

In 1910, the mechanical faculty challenged the agricultural faculty to a football game, a struggle that had to be shortened because some of the players were not physically fit. Nonetheless, the engineers "skunked" the aggies 23-0. Perhaps the professors would have fared somewhat better had they waited two years to play their game; in 1912, the playing field for all gridiron matches was shortened from 110 yards to 100 yards.

The field itself may have been saved forever by VPI's 1922 master plan, which encouraged development of the campus around the area rather than on it. Architect Warren Manning proposed that the 22-acre field be "an expanse to be left open forever," and his wishes have now dominated for 86 years.

Not long after VPI approved the 1922 master plan, the college began feeling the need for a real stadium to better serve its growing athletics programs, and officials selected a site across the road from Miles Field for the new facility. When the project commenced in 1923, the Department of Civil Engineering supervised construction.


About the time the stadium was completed in 1926, the corps of cadets unanimously voted to name it Miles Stadium in honor of Sally Miles. Organized athletics severed ties to Miles Field as sporting events moved to the new facility. The great oval then became known simply as the Drillfield, reflecting the major use it would now serve, and the name stuck.

One distinguishing characteristic of the Drillfield is the waterway--Stroubles Creek--running beneath its surface on the south side. The creek was enclosed in a conduit in 1934, and the first asphalt walks--two of them--were poured in 1971. Sinking, however, is not one of the Drillfield's characteristics. The urban legend that it subsides an inch per year is simply that, a legend with no basis in fact.

Historic happenings

Protest on the Drillfield
Virginia Tech Special Collections
The Drillfield has been the site of many memorable events. The incomparable VPI football legend Hunter Carpenter played on the field during his five years (yes, that's five) on the team. After starring as VPI's halfback from 1899 to 1903, Carpenter spent the 1904 season on the University of North Carolina football squad. That year, UNC faced VPI on Gibboney Field. Refusing to compete against his alma mater and former teammates, Carpenter didn't even suit up, choosing instead to watch from the stands. Nonetheless, the Heels, hoping for his return the next year, elected him captain of the 1905 UNC squad. But Carpenter returned to VPI for his final season in 1905, when the Blacksburg squad beat the team from Charlottesville--on the Cavaliers' home field--for the first time. After losing that game, the University of Virginia refused to play VPI for another 18 years. Carpenter went on to be elected to the National Football Hall of Fame.

As early as 1898, the field became the site of countless snow battles. In the first years of the annual event, freshmen (then called "rats") were divided into two groups to hurl snowballs at each other while the rest of the corps and a number of other spectators watched from the fringes of the battle. Later, the snowball fights encompassed the entire corps, although President Paul B. Barringer called a temporary halt to them in 1910 because of the prevalence of pneumonia on campus.

The Drillfield has seen a wide array of other extracurricular activities through the years. In the 1960s, students laden with signs of protest took to the field to demonstrate against the unpopular war in Vietnam--a move solidifying them with student unrest throughout the country. In 1997, approximately 3,000 students and faculty and staff members gathered on the Drillfield to celebrate the university's 125th anniversary by forming the numbers "125"; the image was photographed from a passing airplane.

After the tragedy of April 16, 2007, the Drillfield became the spontaneous site of numerous memorials to the 32 students and professors who died and a gathering place for students, faculty and staff members, and countless others mourning those who had been lost. In November 2007, the field hosted thousands of people who spelled out a message of thanks to the world for the overwhelming support received in the wake of April 16. [See "Around the Drillfield."]

Throughout its existence and regardless of its name, the Drillfield has served as a place of athletic rivalries, corps drills and reviews, celebrations, and memorials, proving time and time again that it is, indeed, the heart of the Virginia Tech campus.

Clara B. Cox is director of University Publications.

The Drillfield

What a difference a century makes ...
The Drillfield

VPI 1908

fireworks on the Drillfield

The Drillfield isn't just a means of getting to classrooms and residence halls--it becomes a part of students' lives. We asked current and former students, "What does the Drillfield mean to you?" Here's what they said:

When I walk across the Drillfield, I actually think about my grandfather as a member of the corps of cadets here in the 1930s. Both of my parents attended Virginia Tech, too. For me, the Drillfield isn't just a part of Tech history, it's a part of my family history.
Annamarie Ammen, sophomore English and Spanish major

The Drillfield is a huge mass of centralized land that is untarnished--it's almost sacred, in a sense. It remains untouched while the campus around it is ever growing. And anyone who knows anything about Virginia Tech knows about the cold walk across the Drillfield on a winter day.
Jay Williams, junior business management and psychology major

Over the years, I have told my children stories about Virginia Tech, many of which are about "the Drillfield this" or "the Drillfield that." Several years ago, my family and I were riding a ski lift at Snowmass when someone else on the lift mentioned something about "the Drillfield" without even mentioning Virginia Tech. My kids looked at me and rolled their eyes, but they also realized that the Drillfield was more than a unique oval of green in my eyes--it was something special that would follow them all of their lives, no matter where in the world they found themselves.
John Stern (industrial engineering '68)

My fondest memories are from my last semester when I was living in East Campbell and had to trek across the Drillfield in the early morning fog to make it to class. At least once a week, often when the fog was the thickest, the silence would be broken by the sound of a student playing the bagpipes. The music always gave me a feeling of peace and reminded me why I came to Virginia Tech. It was a place to get away from city life and enjoy nature while getting a top-notch education. The Drillfield, complete with bagpipes, solidified where I was going while still allowing me to appreciate where I was.
Nisha (Jain) Bindal (computer engineering '94)

Standing almost anywhere on the Drillfield, you can see academic buildings, residence halls, the Duck Pond, students playing sports, cadets marching, and the War Memorial pylons. On the Drillfield, you become engulfed in all that is Virginia Tech.
Jasmine Dhir, sophomore communication major

I arrived in Blacksburg in January 1946 and finished in June 1949. This was a time when a majority of the students were men and most were ex-GIs just returned from World War II. I lived on the third floor of what was then called the Old Stone Dormitory, directly across from Burruss Hall. One foggy Sunday morning in the fall, I looked out at the Drillfield from my third-floor window and saw a strange structure in the middle of the field, only its upper part standing above the mist. This structure turned out to be a farmer's outhouse that some of those ex-GIs had confiscated during a weekend prank. Today, when I visit campus, I always find time to look at the Drillfield. It's the one place that--without the paved walking paths--still looks like my memories from so many years ago.
Irving (Jack) Craig (mining engineering '49)

Go here to read more Drillfield memories.

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