Monday, December 7, 2015

Field-trippin' with the Virginia Cavaliers

You see and feel the difference the moment you step into the arena.

There are people - shiny happy (little) people, as Michael Stipe would say - where the empty seats usually are. The game hasn't even started yet, but the wall of sound these kids have already created causes little bumps to appear on your arms and a tingling sensation on the back of your neck. You're like, "Whoa, this must be a big deal...."

And we weren't even playing. So we can only imagine how Virginia's Cavaliers will feel when the electricity produced by thousands of elementary/middle school children engulfs them for their "Field Trip Day" game against Bowling Green Tuesday morning at John Paul Jones Arena.

We know this drill well, having experienced back-to-back sellout crowds (see above video) for Old Dominion's expertly engineered "Education Day." In our view, it's the coolest athletic event the school produces, a perfect synergy of community outreach, inspiring kids and athletic competition.

Now it's Virginia's turn to have the kids rock the house.

"To get screaming kids in the building is like having a sixth man. Young kids always want someone to look up to and aspire to. We've always done that, and now we get to reward them with a game. There's an educational piece to it. We will highlight what it takes to get here and what our student-athletes have to do in the classroom and on the court." - Virginia coach Joanne Boyle

We wanted more details so we contacted Cavaliers assistant director of basketball operations Hadley Zeavin, who in addition to having a wonderfully unique name speaks with a youthful exuberance that makes her an ideal spokesperson for this event.

We listened intently as Hadley broke it down:

Joanne Boyle
Roughly 6,300 kids from throughout Charlottesville and surrounding areas as far away as Harrisonburg (Spotswood Elementary)...Chaperones and teachers will bump the number to around 7,300. If anything close to Virginia's typical game-day crowd attends, we're looking at a total attendance in the 9,000-10,000 range...Walker Upper Elementary, the first school to sign on, is bringing virtually everyone (nearly 600) and will have its chorus sing the national anthem...Virginia's players have been regularly visiting schools and priming the students for this event...A Joanne Boyle-inspired production, with in-house credit for implementation starting with Todd Goodale (Senior Associate AD for External Affairs), Jane Miller (Sr. Associate AD for Programs) and Sarah Whitney (Assistant Director of Marketing and Promotions) and filtering through to many others who have no doubt busted their tails for months to make this work.

The payoff for all this tail-busting will come Tuesday morning, when thousands and thousands of screaming youngsters will make JPJ come alive.

"I can't wait to see all of those familiar faces! It will be a lot of fun playing in front of all the bright students!" - Virginia guard Aliyah Huland El

Now, since this is new to the Hoos, here's a primer on what to look for:

- Expect an energized opponent: Boyle's remark about the crowd being the Cavaliers' sixth man is largely correct (not to mention the coach in her speaking). But our experience is that kids like seeing the ball go through the basket no matter who shoots it, so Bowling Green's players may feel as though they're getting support, too.

Then again, Loyola (Md.) coach Joe Logan said he told his players just that prior to a youth day game at Pittsburgh, only to be chagrined when his players ran onto the court to a chorus of boos.

Cute kids at Pitt, huh?

They're watching everything: Of course, the players are the main stars. But some of these kids won't be able to tell their parents which team won but will have a detailed report on the cheerleaders. Others will be mesmerized by the band. We even came across one kid who left the game insisting he was going to become a referee because ''they get a whistle and get to boss people around."

Win the game: This is always the point, naturally, but it's uniquely painful to come up short in this spot. We've seen Old Dominion suffer some really tough losses, but we're not sure we've ever seen the Lady Monarchs as disoriented in defeat as they were after Maryland-Eastern Shore took them down in ODU's 2011 Education Day matinee.

After all, no one wants to let kids down.

That's all we've got for now. Enjoy the experience, Cavaliers Nation!

And hey, Hadley, send pictures!

"I am so excited to welcome Charlottesville-area children to JPJ!" - Virginia guard J'Kyra Brown

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