As part of a special section on what the impact of Northern Virginia’s secession from the rest of the Commonwealth would theoretically be, The Connection looked at all of the Northern Region’s sports, asking local coaches to predict what Northern Virginia state sports might look like.
IN FOOTBALL, since 1993, the AAA Virginia Division 6 state championship has been out of the area for only a one-year departure — when Indian River took the top prize in 1995.
Annandale took the crown in back-to-back years in ’93 and ’94. Chantilly took the title in ’96, and Robinson in ’97. Next was Prince William County school Hylton winning back-to-back titles in ’98 and ’99. Centreville took the honors in 2000, and Coach Mark Bendorf won for his second time with this year’s squad in 2001.
“I wouldn’t like it,” said Centreville head coach Mike Skinner on secession. “I’ve developed some great friendships with the guys in Richmond and the Virginia Beach area.”
Oakton head football coach Pete Bendorf had similar thoughts.
“I don’t think it would be good for anybody,” said the physical education department head. “You have to love that level of competition.”
WHAT ABOUT BASKETBALL? Two highly respected coaches in the Northern Region gave their thoughts on the topic, and they, too, gave departure a thumbs down. “I want to win a state championship,” said South Lakes head hoops man Wendell Byrd. “But I don’t want to win one that way.”
Current Lake Braddock boys basketball coach Brian Metress was not a fan of seceding either.
“The last time Northern Virginia voted to secede from something, it didn’t work out too well,” he said. “All we got was 12 years of reconstruction and a national cemetery in our general’s front yard.”
The first-year Bruin head coach from New York chuckled and said it took the country a dozen years to rebuild, and Robert E. Lee’s plantation eventually came to be Arlington National Cemetery.
“If that were the case,” said Metress on basketball in the 51st state of Northern Virginia, “I would have three state titles, and Wendell would have about 10.”
IN CROSS-COUNTRY, from a competitive standpoint, very little would change for the Northern Region. Although Central Region schools like Maggie Walker and Midlothian have been consistent winners over the last few seasons, regional powers have dominated the state for even longer.
“Most of the best cross-country runners have been from right here,” said Vic Kelbaugh, coach at West Springfield.
The only significant change for Northern Virginia cross country would be at the state championship level. The Plains, which currently hosts the state finals, is in Fauquier County. Kelbaugh speculated that Bull Run Park in Centreville would be a suitable replacement, although The Plains is a tougher course.
WRESTLING IS ANOTHER matter, and two head grappling coaches like the thought of being a state champion.
“The beach area [Tidewater area] kills us every year,” said Madison head wrestling coach Andrew Maoury. “But their elementary and middle schools are financially supported [in wrestling] and have the sport at their level. I don’t know why we don’t do that up here.”
Another fellow Liberty District wrestling coach had some love for the rest of the state, he said yes to the detachment.
“It would make it a little easier for [Northern Virginia] in all sports,” said Langley head coach John Belyea. “And I think we would be better off in general. We are already two states anyway.”
MARSHALL SWIM/DIVE coach Bob Churchill said the biggest issue for his sport would remain the availability of pool time, secession or not. “We really pushed for practice times,” he said. “An hour and 15 minutes is not much for swim practice.”
He said secession would “hurt the kids more than anything else,” as the rest of the state is catching up to the powerful Northern Region competitively.
From a facilities standpoint, swimming is in better shape than most other sports, as The Freedom Center in Manassas has hosted the AAA state finals frequently.
FIELD HOCKEY coach Starr Karl of Centreville would have at least three state championships if Northern Virginia had been a reality. “We are almost at the same level as the Virginia Beach teams,” Karl said. “But they have bigger feeder programs than we do.”
The U.S. Field Hockey Association has its national training center based in Virginia Beach. Having just visited the turf complex during a recent trip to the 2002 National Indoor Tournament, Karl said the center has helped youth field-hockey players in the Tidewater area evolve into quality high-school players.
FOR LACROSSE, the forming of a new state would finally mean an official state title for both the boys and the girls programs.
“Not all schools in Virginia have lacrosse programs,” said Centreville girls lacrosse coach Michelle Maxwell-Gold. “So usually the winner in our region wins the state title because the Richmond teams aren’t as good as we are in the Northern Region.”
The same holds true for the boys division as Woodson and Robinson have taken the title for the past two years.
CREW IN Northern Virginia would continue to thrive. The Occoquan regatta site is in Prince William County, and teams would continue to have interstate competition with Maryland and D.C.
Currently a club program, crew may have an opportunity to become a varsity sport in the new state, as the majority of schools in the ‘Northern Virginia High School League’ would have programs.
TENNIS PROGRAMS from Northern Virginia have dominated on the state level for the past several years, with state championships looking more like regional rematches on both the team and individual levels. “In terms of quality of tennis, we already face the toughest competition here in Northern Virginia,” said South Lakes tennis coach Rod Paolini.
In 2004, boys and girls tennis will be played in the same season. (As it stands now, girls play in the fall and boys play in the spring.)
“I think you will have difficulty finding coaches. You might find people who are not tennis professionals, people who will be willing to coach, but they don’t really know what they are doing.”
Building new tennis complexes to reduce court-sharing time also presents financial and other concerns.
“We don’t even maintain the courts we have now,” Paolini said.
FOR GYMNASTICS, specifically for the boys, making a new state out of Northern Virginia would do nothing in terms of cutting out teams, since the Northern Region is the only region with the sport.
On the girls’ side, replacing the quality found in teams from Virginia Beach and the central part of the state would be difficult.
“You would lose some of the competitiveness,” said Oakton girls coach Mike Cooper. “The Virginia Beach teams — they’ve won states the past two years.
SEVERAL SOFTBALL hot spots would be eliminated from the equation in secession. Still, the high level of play in the region would not diminish at all, as the area continues to prove it is top notch when it comes to state competition. With the growth of club softball and the ever-increasing participation in national tournaments — such as the 2001 PONY National event held in Loudoun last summer — quality players and teams can be found all over the state. “There is no difference between AAA and AA [softball],” said Broad Run coach Ed Steele. “If you have a good pitcher, it doesn’t matter if you are A, AA or AAA. Pitching is the difference.”
BASEBALL in Northern Virginia is hard to judge. In the last two Northern Region playoffs, teams from bigger schools have won 15 of 16 first-round games. According to Westfield baseball coach Chuck Welch, this raises a question concerning big schools vs. little schools.
“The first thing that comes to mind is fairness,” Welch said. “I have kids sitting on the bench for me that would be starting in the Liberty District. If you have 3,000 kids to chose from as opposed to 1,200, it makes a big difference.”
SINCE ICE HOCKEY is not officially recognized as a high-school varsity sport, the creation of a new state would have no impact.
The 22 teams consisting of public-school participants all represent schools currently within the borders of Northern Virginia and do not match up against non-NVSHL squads.
In light of that, Potomac Falls hockey coach Brian Logan said the sport isn’t established enough to be affected by a new state.
“Hockey is in its infancy around here,” Logan said.
THE CHEERLEADING community was vocal in its support of secession. Herndon head coach Traci Waller, a security officer at the school off Bennett Street, was all for it. “Fairfax County already treats cheerleading separate than the rest of the state,” said the University of Texas grad. “Fairfax treats cheerleading as a sport, but the rest of the state treats cheer as an activity.”
Waller said the teams lose that all-important momentum and thus can’t be as sharp at states. For the record, no cheerleading team from our area has ever won a state title. “The Northern Region Council already makes cheerleading adhere to stricter rules than the rest of the state because [the principals and the ADs] view it as a sport,” said Waller.
IN TRACK AND FIELD one significant change to Robinson coach Jeremy Workman’s sport would come in the distance races. He believes the rule restricting how many races an athlete entered in the 3,200-meter run can compete in has been on the books because the southern part of the commonwealth wants to lessen the impact of the Northern Region’s strong distance runners. Conversely, Northern Virginia would provide a new opportunity for local sprinters to win state titles.
FOR GOLF, making Northern Virginia a state of its own would do nothing other than minimally limit its potential growth.
As Langley golf coach Al Berg knows, part of the high-school golf experience is facing the unknowns of state competition.
“Psychologically, [creating a new state] would make things different,” Berg said. “When you go to a state tournament, the teams are unknown most of the time. You don’t get to prepare like you can against teams from this area.”
With pre-tournament strategy basically going out the window, Berg believes golfers are forced to rely on sheer talent and shot-making.
IN VOLLEYBALL, no coach was more emphatic about the split as McLean head coach Jen Bolger.
“Yes, yes, yes, yes,” said the coach, as the pitch in her voice grew with each word. “I would love it, because we get no respect from Richmond and the beach area. And we have good players.”
Bolger recalled the plight of Centreville coach Ken Moser. Bolger said the Wildcat head coach had to “almost beg” to get Erin Bruggar, the regional player of the year, on the all-state team.
IN SOCCER, Richard Broad from W.T. Woodson gave his two cents’ worth on the topic of leaving the rest of the state.
“If it means more money [for soccer and the schools], then I’m all for it,” said Broad.
“Besides if [secession] was good enough for my great-grandfather, who was a member of the Confederate Army, then it’s good enough for me.”
Barring Kempsville’s win in ’97 (the Chiefs are from Virginia Beach), Fairfax County has won three state titles, and Prince William has won five since 1993.
For girls soccer, the rest of the state isn’t even coming close.
Since the state of Virginia started the girls AAA state championships in 1984, teams from Fairfax County have won all except two titles in the sport’s 17 years of existence.
“If we left the state, girls soccer would really be hurt in the Eastern and Central regions,” said Robinson head coach Jim Rike, who owns three of those titles.
“Our area is the strongest, and there is not nearly as much balance in the rest of the state.”
Rike said it would be nice to have the taxes we pay stay up here in Northern Virginia, but the longtime coach did have one caution:
“I don’t want us to become a West Virginia. Because the way West Virginia is, they probably should have stayed Virginia.”