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Biden makes surprise stops
Local residents meet the vice president in Danville, Stuart
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Vice President Joe Biden (second left) speaks to George Washington High School football coach Bobby Martin of Henry County during a surprise visit to the school’s football team Monday in Danville. Biden also made an unscheduled stop in Stuart on Tuesday. (AP)
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Wednesday, August 15, 2012

By PAUL COLLINS - Bulletin Staff Writer

It was the football practice of a lifetime.

On Monday, Vice President Joe Biden spent nearly an hour at the George Washington High School football team’s practice, shaking hands, throwing some passes and offering some advice.

Bobby Martin of Henry County, the head football coach at the Danville school, said meeting Biden was an experience he and his players will remember the rest of their lives.

“This just doesn’t happen,” Martin said, adding that he knows people who have never met someone of Biden’s stature their entire lives.

Biden played football in high school and at the University of Delaware, according to news media reports.

Martin said Biden talked football — such things as “play hard; practice hard; if you get down, get back up.”

Martin said Biden shook the hands of every varsity and JV football player, about 85 of them, and of every coach. “He didn’t have to,” Martin said.

Biden also threw some passes and handed off some balls, Martin said.

What stood out most in Martin’s mind was an encounter between Biden and Martin’s son, “B.J.,” a senior who plays linebacker and H-back (half tight end and half fullback) for the George Washington Eagles.

“He (Biden) didn’t know my son played,” Bobby Martin said.

After Biden found out, he told B.J., “I have two sons who look out for their father. I’m asking you as a son to look out for your father,” Bobby Martin said.

Biden was at the football practice from about 6 to 6:55 p.m. Monday. During that time, he was like an ex-football coach, Martin said.

The vice president didn’t bring up politics, except to ask how many players are 18 and encourage them to vote, Martin said.

“He was real down to earth,” Martin said.

Martin estimated there were 30 or more security officers at the practice. He said some of them played football in college.

Martin said a man came to him last Thursday with what turned out to be a made-up story about a relative of his wanting to try out for football. The man then returned before practice on Monday and told him the real story: The vice president was coming. “I could not tell anyone. My principal did not even know,” Martin said.

Biden spoke Tuesday morning at The Institute for Advanced Learning and Research in Danville. Then he headed west to Wytheville.

Along the way, he made an unexpected stop in Stuart, according to Tom Bishop, executive director of the Patrick County Chamber of Commerce.

Biden arrived on Main Street near the El Rancho Mexican Restaurant and greeted people there, Bishop said. Bishop said that he reached out to shake Biden’s hand, saying, “Thanks for coming to Stuart ... and Patrick County.”

Stuart Mayor James McHone introduced himself to Biden, and Biden invited him to a cup of coffee at The Coffee Break.

People gathered in front of Blue Ridge Furniture and greeted Biden again when he emerged back on Main Street. Biden spent about 20 minutes talking to those gathered and listening intently, Bishop stated.

It all caused quite a stir, with multiple Secret Service personnel and vehicles filling up Main Street. County Administrator Tom Rose and Sheriff Dan Smith were among those on hand, Bishop added.

Dianne Hunt, a waitress in The Coffee Break, said in a phone interview that Biden talked and shook hands with customers and others who gathered in the restaurant.

“Everybody was very impressed he took time to come to a small town like Stuart. He’s a busy man,” she said.

She said Biden was “very upbeat, easy to know, and wants to know people.”

She said The Coffee Break is known for its hot dogs, and Biden had one, all the way. “He said it was delicious, and he ate it in about two bites.”

Hunt said Glen Wood was in the restaurant and met Biden. She said Biden knew about Wood and the Wood Brothers Racing Team.

Wood, who was inducted into NASCAR’s Hall of Fame in January, is the founder, original driver and longtime co-owner for Wood Brothers Racing, the oldest active team and the longest-sustained in NASCAR history.

Hunt said of Biden’s visit: “Everyone around the town of Stuart and Patrick County that happened to be here described it as one of the biggest things that’s happened here.”


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