A Top Trio

by minton on May 3, 2022

ZZ Top and the Eliminator

Depending on your age and musical tastes, you may remember the great ZZ Top music videos from the 1980s. ZZ Top, a three-piece blues band from Texas, created a sensation with fast-paced videos featuring a hot rod, hot actors, hot songs, and spinning guitars. The two guitarists in ZZ Top featured long-flowing beards. The drummer, clean-shaven, is a Beard (Frank Beard, to be exact).

Spinning Guitars

While not especially musical, the Roanoke College trio of Jake, Claire, and Sean have rocked the Roanoke campus in various ways. Echoing ZZ Top, Jake and Sean are very Beardsley and Claire is a Beard.

Claire Beard, Jake Beardsley, Sean Beardsley

Their paths to Roanoke were quite different. Jake and Sean are brothers from Bakersfield, California, with Jake being two years older. Jake wanted to shed the West Coast for college, so he and his Dad made an eastern swing that brought them to Harvard, Brown, Penn, Washington and Lee, and Roanoke, among others. If you think that one of those schools is not like the others, you’re right – Roanoke was the only one with a sports analytics program. Roanoke (the city) also has Star City Games, a huge Magic: the Gathering retail store. Jake is a national-caliber player. Those other schools never had a chance. Claire was not especially interested in the college search process, and was fine with Bridgewater until her Mom put Roanoke on the must-see list and she had a good campus visit. Sean knew about Roanoke through Jake, and loved the place when he came on an official visit. He is also a big Magic: the Gathering player.

Sean’s first year was our full-covid year. He was on campus, to get acclimated to college life and to establish an identity beyond being Jake’s little brother. Jake, interestingly, was not on campus. He and Claire were in California, struggling with 5:30 jogging and physics classes, respectively. They had connected in their first year at Roanoke as project partners in their INQ 120 class. Work on the project and several trips down YouTube rabbit holes revealed a variety of shared interests and a common sense of humor and outlook on life.

Claire and Jake have been heavily involved in research at Roanoke. Claire was one of Dr. Jorgensen’s favorite student researchers on respiratory systems in lobsters. Jake did a series of projects with Dr. Childers on basketball analytics. Despite the pandemic, Jake presented his work at several conferences.

Jake was an invaluable member of Stat Crew, where I got to know him best. In his first semester, we were in the press box for a soccer game. Roanoke was not playing well, and Jake had several humorous (possibly snarky) comments on their mistakes. I was a little uneasy about this, as both Scott Allison (athletic director and Hall of Fame soccer coach) and Mike Maxey were also in the booth. I ran into both of them in the next week, and was relieved to hear that they both thought Jake was hilarious and a great guy. Later on, we were in the baseball press box getting training on the high-tech TrackMan system, which I pointed out would show the exact location of a pitch and possibly indicate how bad of a call the umpire had just made. Remembering who was in the booth, I said, “By the way, nobody in Stat Crew has ever been thrown out of a game” to which Jake immediately replied, “That sounds like a challenge!” We always had a great time at the games.

Jake in his Stat Crew shirt and research poster

Looking back on my conversation with Jake, Claire, and Sean for this article, my main thought is that this is what college should be like. We covered multiple topics, relevant to anything or not, laughed frequently (Me: What was the best thing about Roanoke? And the worst thing? Claire points at Jake and says: Both!), made some thoughtful statements (Claire on posting class notes online when we were remote: “It helped with grades, I think. It didn’t help with learning.”), and some provocative statements (some about being in STEM majors and taking HNRS or INQ courses, some about not getting credit for labs, some about Division III sports referees). Challenging, unique, enjoyable: the intellectual life at its best.

ZZ Top waves goodbye

In the ZZ Top videos, the heroes drive the hot rod off into the sunset while the ZZ Top beards wave goodbye. It is always a little sad when our favorite graduates hop into their hot rod and drive away, but in this case none of our three heroes are going far away. Jake is in the Ph.D. statistics program at Virginia Tech, Claire will be at the Fralin Biomedical Research Institute in Roanoke, and Sean will be back at Roanoke College after working for Grimmway Farms in their IT department. Jake has said that his eventual career goal is to be a college professor; in particular, at Roanoke College running Stat Crew. Now that is a good Hollywood ending.