‘They feel connected’: Loudoun Co. pilots sports at 4 middle schools

Eighth grader Julian Henry really wanted to play football last year after he finished classes at Seneca Ridge Middle School in Loudoun County, Virginia, so he thought it would be a good idea to start a club, because the county didn’t offer organized sports at middle schools.

There was a significant amount of interest, and Henry was satisfied with how it turned out. But, he said it’s been even more rewarding now that it’s a county-organized intramural sport at some middle schools.

Loudoun County Public Schools has launched a middle school pilot program at four schools, including Seneca Ridge, with the possibility to expand it to all county middle schools. In the first quarter, middle school students were given the chance to join a coed flag football team, and volleyball, soccer and basketball will be offered later this year.

Just weeks into the new school year, leaders at Seneca Ridge say the pilot program has produced promising results, giving students the chance to participate in an after-school activity instead of just going home. Nearby Fairfax County Public Schools, Virginia’s largest school system, is offering cross country and track to its middle schoolers, the first time it’s offered organized team sports before high school.

Loudoun County Public Schools has launched a middle school pilot program at four schools, including Seneca Ridge, with the possibility to expand it to all county middle schools. (WTOP/Scott Gelman)

Many kids in the Loudon County school system don’t have the means to do parks and recreation activities without support from the school, according to Principal Nicholas Cottone.

“Whatever we can provide as a school gives them opportunities that they wouldn’t have otherwise. And they feel connected,” Cottone said.

Every Wednesday afternoon for an hour, about 90 students participate in several organized flag football games, Cottone said. Teachers serve as either referees or coaches, and student pick their 11-person teams themselves.

Then, they play two or three 7-on-7 games, with a chance to play the other middle school’s teams at the end of the season.

Then, the school has activity buses that leave campus to take students home.

“On Wednesdays, if I’m going to class (and) I’m having a hard time, I just like to think that football at the end of the day kind of gets me excited,” Henry said.

Casey Davenport is one of the school’s deans, but on the football field, he’s the clock manager, letting each team know when it’s halftime or time to switch games.

“It’s been a bigger hit than I thought it would be,” Davenport said.

Davenport anticipates the sports will become increasingly popular in the coming months. Sign-ups for intramural volleyball started in early October, and there are already three teams signed up to play. And some of the football players said they want to continue playing other sports when the season ends, he said.

Davenport expects 3-on-3 basketball to be a hit, too.

“Our families love it, and 90 kids out here (playing football) is more than 10% of our school,” Cottone said.

Student Max Egbert said the opportunity to play sports helps him focus on academics.

“Sometimes, (if) you don’t have a good grade in class, you can’t go out and play. So, definitely helps me focus up on my classes,” Egbert said.

Another student, Hawa, said the same.

“It’s fun to get a break from all the educational stuff,” she said, sporting a neon glove she wore during Wednesday’s games.

Scott Gelman

Scott Gelman is a digital editor and writer for WTOP. A South Florida native, Scott graduated from the University of Maryland in 2019. During his time in College Park, he worked for The Diamondback, the school’s student newspaper.

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