By Ken Wilson –
It’s a late spring Wednesday in Charlottesville, and Johnny’s out shooting hoops, dreaming about his game tonight at Buford Middle School. Dad’s at work, or maybe he’s on the golf course, but at six he’s pitching in McIntire Park, and at seven Mom plays volleyball at Carver Rec. Susie’s basketball team won Monday; she has her choice tonight of what sport to watch and who to root for.
Yeah, we’re a sports town, alright, and a town full of sports families. A town where orange and blue signifies the Virginia Cavaliers. A town where baseball broadcasts preempt talk shows, and where a young priest confesses wryly from the pulpit that his dying words, never mind profundity, might be “Go Hoos!”
Speaking of those Hoos, or Wahoos, or Cavs, or Cavaliers—w e have many names for what we love—University of Virginia men play baseball, basketball, cross-country, football, golf, lacrosse, soccer, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and wrestling. The women play basketball, cross-country, field hockey, golf, lacrosse, soccer, softball, swimming and diving, tennis, track and field, and volleyball.
Attendance-wise, of course, football is king of them all. Back in the mid-Seventies, as Charlottesville native Karen Gillaspie remembers, “there were hardly enough fans to fill one complete section and the only team we could beat back then was VPI—currently referred to as VA Tech! Now there are many more fans in attendance and games are great fun.”
Virginia’s annual game with North Carolina dates back to 1892, and is known as the South’s Oldest Rivalry. But it’s the Virginia Tech Hokies, whom the Cavs first faced in 1895 and have played annually since 1970, that local fans are most eager to beat. The hated Hokies had their way 52-10 in 2016, and lead the series 56–37–5. The Cavs can take revenge at home on November 24. They open their 2017-18 season here on September 2 against William and Mary.
Two-time National Coach of the Year, Tony Bennett came to UVA from Washington State in 2009 and revitalized the basketball program with his “five pillars”—humility, passion, unity, servanthood, and thankfulness. Bennett’s teams are known for their strong defense. UVA’s women’s basketball games are just as exciting, Gillaspie says, “and the ticket prices are cheaper, which makes it an affordable option for families with children to attend—thus exposing the children to sports at a young age.”
While the Cavs keep the whole town talking, Charlottesvillians love recreational sports, as well, and have numerous options for playing and socializing. 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), bringing 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 to play in the Seminole League.
The Albemarle Girls’ Field Hockey and Lacrosse League was founded in 1981 by Linda Perriello and Linda Southworth, two middle school girls. Teaming up with the parents of some of the players, the two women also helped to start varsity programs at city and county high schools. Nowadays the League offers lacrosse for girls in grades 1-8.
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. “SOCA runs an outstanding program,” Gillaspie says. “The kids meet other kids from different schools and make new friends in the area.”
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. In 2017 the Club has 4,500 members and offers seven sports: kickball, dodgeball, wallyball, sand volleyball, flag football, soccer and flipcup. “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 will open in July. The league also sponsors happy hour get-togethers and Foxfield outings.
The Charlottesville Men’s Adult Baseball League (CMABL) fields four teams on eight fields. The league strives to promote “camaraderie, competition, fair play, fun, recreation, respect, and good sportsmanship among players, managers, teams, spectators and umpires.”
Charlottesville Parks and Recreation offers youth basketball and adult softball and volleyball. It also supports programs for senior softball, adult flag football and soccer, and youth football, baseball, softball, soccer and wrestling.
Tailgating at the Foxfield Races in Albemarle County is practically a rite of passage for UVA students each spring and fall. First held in 1978 on a former horse farm belonging to well-known horseman, Grover Vandevender, the steeplechase races on the last Saturday in April attract a lively crowd of as many as 25,000 people, many in traditional aristocratic Southern dress, including seersucker suits and bowties for the guys, and pastel colors for both sexes. The fall event, on the last Sunday in September, is geared towards families, with kids activities and a Jack Russell Terrier race. Typical attendance is 3,000-4,000. Both events benefit local charities. Foxfield’s 2017 Fall Family Day is Sunday, September 24. This year’s beneficiary is International Neighbors Charlottesville. Here in Charlottesville, even the horses love sports.