Northern Virginia High School League

Northern Virginia High School League

The VHSL would struggle if NOVA broke away.

Frustration with the tone and content of this year’s General Assembly inspired The Connection to ask a divisive question: What would the future hold for an independent state of Northern Virginia? Included in that debate is the fate of Northern Region sports, which is speculated in this special section.

Without its member schools in the Northern Region, the Virginia High School League (VHSL) would suffer significant losses in revenue, according to Bruce Patrick, Fairfax County's director of student activities.

"If you were to look at the amount of money that goes to the VHSL from the Northern Virginia area, it would be quite a blow to the League," he said.

Patrick, who has interacted with the VHSL's executive council since 1989, said the proposed commonwealth of Northern Virginia would also be hurt in a split from the rest of the state

"The state would lose a lot, we would lose a lot, and by no means am I in favor of this," said Patrick. "But if it did happen ... yeah, we could make it work."

The VHSL has been the governing body of the state's high-school athletics since 1915. Today, the VHSL serves 290 public high schools, conducting state championships in 24 different sports with more than 125,000 boys and girls participating annually.

Patrick said any Northern Virginia High School League would follow the blueprints of the VHSL.

"The system is already in place. You could tweak it as you go, but clearly you could establish something very quickly under that format."

Executive Director Ken Tilley said that Northern Virginia (Fairfax, Prince William, Loudoun and Arlington counties, along with the City of Alexandria) would take only 40 schools away from his organization's membership.

ACCORDING TO JIM GARMAN, finance director of the VHSL, member schools have three financial obligations to the League: a $500 membership fee per school per year; a $20 activity fee per sport per season; and a catastrophe insurance fee for each athlete, which currently is $3.50 per student but which is due to dramatically increase for next year.

The Northern Region sends 35 percent of its net profits from postseason tournaments in each sport to the VHSL. For example, the region had to send nearly $20,000 downstate from the 2002 regional boys and girls basketball finals' revenue.

All net profits from the state playoffs go directly to the VHSL, no matter what teams are involved in the championships. According to the League, the 2002 state basketball finals grossed $110,000.

VHSL assistant director Joyce Sisson said the revenue generated on a state level by Northern Region teams varies case by case.

"West Springfield [for girls basketball] brought a pretty good crowd," she said, "although not as many people as we wished they would bring."

Hayfield sold 500 presold tickets for the event held in Lynchburg, a five-hour trek for Hawks fans. Cave Spring, two hours away from Lynchburg, brought 3,000 presold tickets.

Patrick said the region would save money on travel expenses as part of the new state: around $100,000, which he said is "not a tremendous sum of money" when put in perspective.

He said that money is used to keep the VHSL running and to allow it to put on workshops and to print and distribute rule books and other items around the state.

PATRICK SAID there is no animosity among regions in the VHSL's membership. "I don't sense that, and I don't see that. It may go on behind closed doors, but it's never been mentioned to my face."

There was open debate between regions after the terrorist attacks on Washington, D.C., last year forced the cancellation of several athletic events. Smaller schools from downstate openly said they would not support the rescheduling of those events, despite the Northern Region's request to do so.

Tilley said any ill-feelings on Northern Virginia's part should not cause it to split from the rest of the state.

"Just because you're not happy or because things don't go your way, there's no reason to sever relationships," he said.

Westfield AD Francis Dall, who once coached at Albemarle High School downstate, said the Northern Region can be "selfish" at times.

"We vote what's best for us and don't really look at the rest of the state," he said.

Dall's high school would be one of many that could serve as a state championship host. In Westfield's case, the school has state-of-the-art facilities to house state track and soccer finals.

Dall speculated that there were enough schools populating Northern Virginia to have multiple classifications, such as AA and AAA, and to make the state playoffs competitive.

"Is being a state champion from Northern Virginia different than being a state champion from Delaware or Massachusetts?" he said.

Patrick said that, warts and all, the NVHSL could be a reality.

"I don't want this to happen," he said, "but if it did happen, it's like the rest of the state: A lot of smart people will get together and make this work."