NOTE: We moved to the Charlottesville, Virginia area in the Summer of 2019 and continue to learn more about the youth sports scene. Talking to other parents about their experiences has been very helpful for us but there are still some clubs, tryouts, camps and events that we have likely missed out on due to lack of awareness or logistical challenges. Corrections and additions are always welcome! Last updated: October 19, 2022.
Our Top Seven Lessons Learned about Charlottesville-Area Youth Sports
- Variety vs. Specialization – The variety of sports options in central Virginia falls in the middle – less extensive than a major metropolitan area like Denver but more extensive than a more rural area. Additional options such as ice hockey, rugby, and higher level competition are available an hour drive east on I-64 in Richmond, the capital of Virginia. Thus a key decision for more competitive athletes is whether to play with the closest club/league or travel farther for a different experience.
- Schools vs. Clubs – In the Charlottesville area, as in Denver, high school sports of all types are a huge focus. Participation outside of high school is split between rec leagues for those who don’t make HS teams (e.g. VABA winter rec basketball) and clubs for those wanting to also compete at a higher level (e.g. Vizion AAU basketball). At the younger ages there are middle school sports programs focused on participation and then a manageable number of non-profit clubs along with a few for-profit clubs.
- Impact of UVA – The presence of the strong UVA varsity athletics program in Charlottesville provides a great source of college coaches, college graduates and student-athletes that benefits local youth sports in a variety of ways. Most UVA varsity programs also offer a summer camp for younger athletes. We were surprised to see that fall youth sports are often scheduled to avoid conflicts with UVA home football games!
- Varying Motivations – Just like in any other location, the motivations that cause families, coaches and administrators to be involved in youth sports vary greatly in Central Virginia. Some see youth sports as a fun immediate experience that may or may not continue in the future while others see youth sports as a path to high school success or securing a college scholarship or a professional sports career. Some are trying to recreate and extend the positive sports experiences of their own youth while others are trying to make amends for their own youth sports experiences that they perceive as having fallen short. Some prioritize activities closest to their home or school or choose based on affordability while others are willing to travel great distances or see no expense as too great. Finding like-minded families, coaches and clubs seems to be key to a positive experience.
- Weather – Virginia’s weather allows for a long outdoor season than Colorado or Canada but with a greater frequency amount of rain and higher heat/humidity than either of those locations. The typical lack of snow is a positive for all field sports but definitely not ideal for skiers and snowboarders.
- Travel – In the Charlottesville/Crozet area, the amount of travel required for youth sports can be either minimal or extreme, with little in between. If families stick with their community leagues/clubs they can stay within their own community for core sports like soccer, basketball, baseball, lacrosse and swimming. At most they will drive between Charlottesville and nearby Crozet. But playing “travel” sports immediately requires travel to Richmond, Roanoke, Harrisonburg, etc. Travel to states south of Virginia is also common to extend the outdoor season.
- More Focus on College Sports Rather than Professional – Being around 2.5 hours from Washington, DC the impact of the Washington, DC pro teams is much diminished compared to the Denver or Toronto areas. On the other hand, the area has many strong DI athletics programs – UVA, JMU, Liberty, Richmond, VCU, VMI, Virginia Tech, etc. The wide number of DII, DIII and NAIA institutions in Virginia and neighboring states provide a wide range of college sports options even for those not recruited by DI schools.
- Residential and Non-Residential Private Secondary Schools – Central Virginia has a long history of private secondary schools, including residential schools such as Miller School and Blue Ridge School for Boys. Military schools such as Fork Union Military Academy and Hargrave Military Academy are not far away and a little farther southwest you can find well-known national basketball powerhouse (and small 150-student residential school) Oak Hill Academy which has had Kevin Durant, Jerry Stackhouse, Carmelo Anthony, Rod Strickland, Rajon Rondo, and many other future NBA players in its lineup over the years.
Availability of Youth Sports
The range of sports options in Central Virginia is not quite as wide as the Denver area, although the available sports options seem to be of equal or, in some case, higher quality. This is a result of the difference in population and lack of critical mass and required infrastructure for certain sports such as rugby and ice hockey.
School Sports vs. Non-Profit and For-Profit Club Sports
In the parts of Canada where we grew up, certain sports were organized primarily through the schools from middle school to high school (e.g. volleyball, basketball) and others primarily took place only outside of the schools (e.g. baseball, gymnastics, skiing). A few fell somewhere in between (soccer, rugby, hockey). This seems to be changing everywhere and Central Virginia is no exception. There seem to be less school sports, and more club sports, for elementary and middle school kids and a wider variety of both high school and club sports options for high school aged kids.
School Sports – Organized elementary school sports teams and leagues seem to be virtually non-existent in Charlottesville and Albemarle County public schools. However kids from the same school may end up playing together through club options described below.
During middle school, Albemarle County School Board, our home district, offers a Middle School Sports Program in cooperation with county parks and recreation. Tennis, cross-country, boy’s and girl’s basketball, co-ed soccer, flag football, girl’s volleyball and track are offered at all five middle schools. Spring baseball is also offered at some schools (a sport that was not offered in Colorado public middle schools). Coaches and bus transportation to away games are provided. Each sport has a very short (4-6 week) and non-overlapping season and rather than tryouts teams are filled on a first-come first-served basis. Whereas our larger Denver middle school had six boys basketball teams per grade (18 teams in total for 6th-8th grade), in Albemarle County each middle school has four boys teams total for all three grades. In the City of Charlottesville, Buford Middle School also offers various sports options as do local private schools.
At the high school level, Central Virginia schools offer a wide range of sports. Most schools have varsity and junior varsity squads with a freshman team in some sports . Unlike in Colorado, where public and private high schools were all governed by the same Colorado High School Activities Association (CHSSA), there are separate organizations for public schools (Virginia High School League) and private schools (Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association – VISAA). VHSL currently has an Alignment plan that divides the state into six classes (from Class 1 to Class 6), four regions per class (A to D), as well as local districts that can include schools of multiple classes and regions. In the Charlottesville area, Western Albemarle, Charlottesville HS and Monticello HS are all currently in Class 3 and Region C whereas larger Albemarle HS is in Class 5 and region D. However regardless of class, eight local high schools nearest to Charlottesville also compete in the local Jefferson District. VISAA divides private schools into three divisions (I, II, III) with St. Anne’s-Belfield (STAB) in the largest Division (I), Miller and Blue Ridge in DII (although Miller moved up to DI for baseball) and Covenant in DIII.
Club Sports – The gap left by a lack of elementary and middle school sport programs is filled by various club teams – many of which still use school facilities to deliver their programs. These clubs can be further divided based on whether they are non-profit and for-profit and whether they focus on a single sport or multiple sports.
1. Non-Profit Multi-Sport Clubs such as the YMCA, city and county recreation authorities offer a variety of sports programs for elementary and middle school ages.
2. Non-Profit Sport-specific Clubs such as SOCA (soccer) and VABA (basketball) that rely on a mix of paid/volunteer central staff and coaches. These clubs were hit hard by COVID-19 since they had ongoing expenses for facilities and salary even when not being able to offer programs.
3. For-Profit Sport-Specific Clubs – Only a few sports seem to have sufficient interest to support for-profit businesses that provide youth sports opportunities. Even within these clubs you may find a mix of paid and volunteer coaches and administrators with the corresponding impact on cost. Example include TEAMS (recently merged with The Baseball Company) and USA Prime Virginia for baseball and ADAPT for physical training.
Sport by Sport Overview
Below are some thoughts on various sports with which we have some familiarity.
Overview: Basketball is very popular sport in the Charlottesville-area with plenty of options for both boys and girls. Participation amongst boys is higher at all ages and unlike in Denver/Colorado the area seems to produce more male NCAA players than female. Beginners can play through VABA (leagues Nov-Feb, club teams in spring), the Piedmont Family YMCA or Charlottesville Parks and Recreation. Even in VABA, competitive teams and leagues are not introduced until 5th grade. In the spring in particular, a few private clubs exist that place teams in various weekend tournaments or leagues. Some top players may choose to play for Richmond-area or Washington, DC area clubs instead.
Key Tournaments: Most tournaments will require travel to Roanoke, Richmond, Harrisonburg or the DC area but there may be some tournaments area in the Cville area.
Key Clubs: VABA Bruins (spring tryout-based club that is part of overall VABA program), Vizion Sports Association, Team Chaos, Crusaders, Cville Cavaliers, Charlottesville Savages. Nearby cities also have clubs – Richmond (River City Reign), Lynchburg (Hill City Crash), Harrisonburg (Lace ‘Em Up). It can be hard to find online information about many of these clubs!
Key Tournament Facilities: While the Charlottesville area lacks any private complexes that host basketball tournaments in the broader area there are many such as Horizons Edge in Harrisonburg, Spectrum Sports Academy in Roanoke, Ben Wallace Gym in Richmond, Virginia Beach Sports Complex, etc.
Key Girls-Only Clubs: Cap City Ballerz West
Current Well-Known Charlottesville-Area Players: UVA MBB and WBB teams and former Hoos playing professionally (Malcolm Brogdan, Joe Harris, Mamadi Diakete, Kyle Guy, Ty Jerome)
Retired Well-Known Charlottesville-Area Players: Ralph Sampson (UVA), Bryant Stith (UVA), Cory Alexander (UVA).
Baseball (and Softball)
Overview: The primary baseball season typically takes place from March-through the summer with another active fall season. Some spring teams start indoor workouts in January. While baseball is popular enough to offer a good range of local options as kids get older they will quickly find themselves traveling longer distances for games – Richmond, Louisa, North Carolina. Some leagues are affiliated with Little League and others with Cal Ripken/Babe Ruth. Some teams just play weekend tournaments.
Youth Leagues/Clubs: Peachtree (Crozet), Northside (north Charlottesville), McIntire Little League (Charlottesville), Fluvanna Youth baseball, Louisa Little League, Waynesboro Youth Babe Ruth League, etc. These clubs generally serve separate areas. Most play a March-June house league schedule followed by some all-star tournaments.
Cove Creek Park – Author John Grisham funded an amazing multi-million dollar youth baseball complex south of Charlottesville that opened in 1996 and hosts both leagues and tournaments. Cove Creek Park Website May 2000 Baltimore Sun article describing Cove Creek Park.
Youth Tournaments: There are at least three competing organizations – Triple Crown, USSSA, Perfect Game, each with their own tournament schedule, ranking systems and rules.
Key Baseball-Specific Clubs: TEAMS/Baseball Company Invaders, H3 Sabres, Blue Ridge Elite, USA Prime Virginia
Current Well-Known Charlottesville-Area Players: Ethan Murray (Duke/Pro), Adam Hackenberg (Clemson/Pro), Nic Kent (UVA/Pro), Tanner Morris (UVA/Pro) Trevor Wilson (Korean League). There were 17 UVA alumni in 2020 MLB 60-man roster pool including Derek Fisher (Blue Jays) and Phil Gosselin (Phillies).
Retired Well-Known Cville-Area Players: Billy Wagner (former MLB pitcher and now head varsity coach of Miller School), Hunter Wyant (Western Albemarle, UVA, Minor Leagues)
Overview: Soccer is clearly one of the leading youth sports in Central Virginia for boys and girls both in terms of both participation and producing state championship high school teams and top-level talent. As kids move into competitive leagues the SOCA club program is the main focus.
Youth Leagues/Clubs: SOCA, Charlottesville Alliance Sports Club (formerly MonU), YMCA Fall Youth Clinics
Key Facilities: SOCA has its own outdoor complex and indoor facility and also uses local schools and parks. Charlottesville Alliance has fields next door to SOCA.
Current Well-Known Cville-Area Players: UVA has produced over 20 MLS draft picks and SOCA alumni play on a wide variety of college and pro soccer teams
Overview: Football participation seems to be declining and shifting from traditional full-contact football to flag football leagues, particularly at younger ages, but full-contact club football remains as a feeder into prominent high school teams.
Youth Leagues/Clubs: Jefferson District Youth Football League, Charlottesville Parks & Rec Flag Football, YMCA Flag Football
Current Well-Known Cville-Area Players: 16 former UVA players were on NFL rosters at the start of the 2019 season
Retired Well-Known Cville-Area Players: Heath Miller (Former Pittsburgh Steeler who has retired to area), Chris Long (Former UVA player), Billy Baber (Western Albemarle/UVA/NFL), Patrick Estes (UVA/49ers/Bills)
Overview: There has been no hockey in the Charlottesville area since 2018 when the only rink, Main Street Arena, closed. Those wanting to play have had to travel to Richmond or Roanoke. However a new rink is in the planning stages are part of Brookhill, a new Charlottesville north subdivision.
Your Leagues/Clubs: Lynchburg Youth Hockey Association, Richmond Generals
Overview: Lacrosse is a popular youth sport with both a fall and spring seasons. The success of the UVA Cavaliers men’s lacrosse team (2019 and 2021 NCAA Champions) has reinforced interest.
Youth Clubs/Leagues: Seminole Lacrosse
Overview: Rugby remains a niche youth sport with the nearest club in Richmond, VA. UVA which has its own rugby club for college-age players.
Youth Clubs: Richmond Strikers
Overview: Central Virginia actually has multiple ski options within the state and nearby in West Virginia. However due to weather variability conditions and opening dates are unpredictable. Wintergreen, located 30 minutes west of Charlottesville has both learn to ski and competitive ski race programs. It is also the home hill for UVA’s Virginia Ski and Snowboard Team (VASST)
Crozet Ski & Snowboard Club – Offers discount passes, lessons and rentals to Crozet youth and families.
Clubs: Wintergreen Ski Race Team
Overview: While swimming is not a focus in our family it is very popular in the area with multiple club options and good high school programs
Key Clubs: Jefferson Swim League (18 area clubs), Crozet Gators (summer club part of Jefferson Swim League)
Current/Retired Well-Known Cville-Area Swimmers: Thomas Heilman is a local swimmer who broke one of Michael Phelps age-group records.
Other Sports and Activities
Fitness/Speed/Agility Training: ADAPT (Athletic Development and Performance Training)
Rowing: Beaver Creek Sculling/WAHS Crew
Climbing: Rocky Top Climbing Gym
Running: Crozet Running (Closed)
Cycling: Crozet Cycling Club, Charlottesville Bicycle Club
Paddle Sports: Rivanna River Company
Tubing: James River Outfitters, Twin River Outfitters
Other: Get Air Sports Charlottesville