By Ken Wilson –
Saturday morning checklist in a randomly chosen Charlottesville household: Don’t forget bat, mitt, shoes, and sunscreen. Saturday morning checklist in the house across the street: Don’t forget binoculars, beer, cooler, and sunscreen.
Whether they’re out on the field or out $50 for the tickets, the average Charlottesvillian is somewhere on the continuum from sports fan to sports fanatic—maybe the first from April through August and the second from September through March while the UVA football and basketball seasons are in progress.
We love our “Hoos”/”Cavs”/Cavaliers, and we love getting out there and playing ourselves, whether we’re dreaming of future glory, or reliving past glories and trying to stay in shape.
University of Virginia
UVA teams are probably the most talked about—and the most agreed on—subjects in town. The university offers 12 sports for men: baseball, basketball, cross-country, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and wrestling. It offers 13 for women: basketball, cross-country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, rowing, soccer, softball, squash, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.
Teams play at the NCAA Division I level in the Atlantic Coast Conference (ACC).
Two-time National Coach of the Year, Tony Bennett came to UVA from Washington State in 2009 and revitalized the men’s basketball program with his “five pillars”—humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness. Bennett’s teams are known for their strong defense.
In 2017-18 that defense led them to 17 ACC conference wins—a conference record—and into the Sweet Sixteen as the number one seed before suffering a heartbreaking loss to UMBC.
With their cheaper ticket prices, the women’s games are popular with families—but no less exciting. Playing for beloved coach Debbie Ryan from 1977 through 2011, the UVA women’s basketball team developed its own loyal and enthusiastic fan base. Joanne Boyle followed Ryan as coach and kept interest high winning six out of her seven years in the job. Tina Thompson, former associate head coach at Texas, takes over for the 2018-19 season.
Under the leadership of third-year coach Bronco Mendenhal, the Cavaliers open their season at home in Scott Stadium against the University of Richmond Spiders on Saturday, September 1. They continue “the South’s oldest Rivalry” (dating back to 1892) against North Carolina at Scott Stadium on October 27.
They close out the 2018 season and take on their biggest rival, Virginia Tech, for the 100th time on November 23 in Blacksburg. UVA first played Tech in 1895 and has done so annually since 1970. Each year’s winner takes possession of the four-foot-high, marble and cherry wood trophy known as the Commonwealth Cup.
The UVA Cavaliers baseball team won its first NCAA National Championship in 2015 under five-time ACC Coach of the Year and three-time national coach of the year Brian O’Connor, now in his 15th season as head coach.
UVA has ranked among the top 40 in the nation in total home and average home attendance since O’Connor took over in 2003, and has been in the top 20 nationally in attendance in each of the last eight seasons, prompting the University to undertake several expansions of Davenport Field.
Next year fans look forward to the arrival of a potential first-round Major League Baseball draft pick, Boston high school right-hander, Mike Vasil. Vasil is currently listed at No. 37 among the top 500 likely picks, but will play for the Cavs first.
While we root for the Cavs around here, we have numerous options for playing (and socializing) ourselves.
The Jefferson Swim League sponsors 18 swim teams for children. The Cavalier Wrestling Club operates a Scholastic Program for kids grades K-12, and a USA Wrestling Regional Olympic Training Center (RTC) brings children together with UVA and Olympic-level athletes for wrestling tips and life lessons.
The Seminole Lacrosse League is dedicated to giving local kids the chance to play lacrosse at the high school level. The league is proud of its high coach to player ratio, which allows every participant to receive individual attention. Seminole League Clinics educate and prepare players at all skill levels.
Charlottesville Sports and Social Club is the brainchild of Chad Day, who moved here from Northern Virginia is 2006.
Like many a newcomer, Day had a hard time meeting people at first. Like the professional problem-solver (computer programmer) he is, he decided to found a sports league. The club has 4,500 members and offers the chance to play basketball (men’s and co-ed), flipcup, cornhole, co-ed kickball, sand volleyball, soccer and flag football.
“We’re happy to provide an outlet for recreational players to go out and get active,” Day says. “People are really friendly, you just need that icebreaker. Being on a sports team with 10 or 15 other people is a great way to start.” Fall registration for Charlottesville Sports and Social Club opens in July. The league also sponsors happy hour get-togethers and Foxfield outings.
Parks and Rec
The City of Charlottesville’s Parks and Recreation Department provides numerous opportunities including youth basketball, baseball, softball, soccer, football, flag football, and wrestling, and adult softball, volleyball, flag football and soccer, plus senior softball. It offers Friday night basketball for children and adults from 5:00 p.m. to midnight. (Ages 10 and under must be accompanied by an adult and there is a $2 charge for adults 18 and up).
It’s not quite tennis, and it’s not badminton, and it’s not ping pong either, but pickleball, which has elements of all three, is the country’s most popular new sport. The game is played by either two or four players using paddles to hit a perforated ball like a Wiffle Ball over a net on a court the size of a badminton court. The game’s rules are similar to those in tennis. Local pickleball enthusiasts play at the YMCA, Boar’s Head Sports Club, the Senior Center and the Key Rec Center.
The Soccer Organization of Charlottesville/Albemarle (SOCA) began organizing games for kids in 1982. Today it serves over 6,000 local players, offering men’s, women’s and “co-recreational” (both genders) matches. Kids play year round, starting at age five in the Hot Shots program and continuing on through the Elite travel program for ages 13- 19. Many participate in camps and clinics and take advantage of individual or small group training.
Not only are local teams and recreational sports leagues hugely popular, but they give kids and adults of all neighborhoods and backgrounds the opportunity to meet, mingle and make friends. Sports are a boon for the body and a balm for the soul—and sports bind us all together.