Not even a last-minute scramble to replace stolen jerseys could derail McLean High School’s boys’ volleyball team from its path to a championship.
The 10-player team won the Northern Virginia High School Boys Volleyball League playoffs with two 25-point sets on Oct. 28, beating a Lake Braddock Secondary School team to cap off a perfect 17-0 season.
John Tamashiro, head coach for the McLean team, attributes its success to a combination of luck, skill, team chemistry and sheer perseverance, as players battled through tough competitors, injuries and other obstacles, including the theft of required jerseys the night before a match.
“I personally have been playing the sport a long time, and you can always have that cocky guy on the team that brings down the team,” Tamashiro told FFXnow. “We didn’t have any of that this year, and I think that was the main thing that all these boys had good personalities and were very talented, and so I think we need that combination to do what we did.”
Even as the McLean team celebrates its championship, the Northern Virginia High School Boys Volleyball League (NVHSVL) has its sights set on an even bigger prize: inclusion in Fairfax County Public Schools as an official varsity sport.
Though the Virginia High School League supports varsity boys’ volleyball, FCPS dropped the sport as a student activity in the early 2000s, according to NVHSBVL organizers.
“Fairfax County Public Schools started an eight-team, club-level program [around 2004], hoping that it would grow in popularity and become a varsity sport,” Michael Markovic said. “Unfortunately, it didn’t grow and the club-level league was canceled by FCPS.”
Supporters instead launched the Northern Virginia High School Boys’ Volleyball League, which offer programs for high school and middle and elementary school students in Fairfax County, Arlington, Loudoun and Alexandria.
The teams are coached by volunteers and take the names of specific schools, though not all players have to attend that school. The McLean team, for example, includes a private school student and two players from the Springfield area, along with several McLean High School students, according to Tamashiro.
The league had tried to regain club status for boys’ volleyball in Northern Virginia about 10 years ago, but the region’s student activities directors failed to get enough high schools to sign on, NVHSBVL director Rob Baily says.
A decade later, momentum for volleyball — which is already available in FCPS for girls — has grown nationwide to the point where league leaders believe that official, school-sanctioned teams for boys would now be successful.
The number of male students participating in high school volleyball has grown by 40% since 2017, making it the fastest growing high school sport in the U.S., according to USA Volleyball CEO Jamie Davis.
Interest has grown locally as well, according to the NVHSBVL, which says participation has more than doubled since 2012. The league’s 2023 fall season involved a record 49 teams totaling more than 500 players, compared to just 12 teams when Markovic joined in 2012.
“Forty-nine teams is a lot of schools that would potentially have volleyball programs now that they don’t have right now,” Tamashiro said. “So, basically…this league is really the equivalent of the high school boys volleyball league in school sports.”
Gaining varsity status would give players consistent access to school gyms and equipment, including poles and nets, Baily says. The league currently reserves space through FCPS’ community use program, which lets outside groups use school facilities when they’re available.
He says a school-sanctioned program would also boost participation by “less advantaged boys,” since they won’t face as many out-of-pocket fees or need to arrange their own transportation to matches.
“It provides a great non-contact alternative to football and as a varsity sport it will create more student-athletes with better time management and healthier lifestyles,” Baily said.
FCPS didn’t comment by press time, but according to Baily, Superintendent Michelle Reid has asked to see data showing current registration and future interest by the end of November so varsity boys’ volleyball could be considered for her next budget proposal, which will be released on Jan. 25.
Regardless of what happens with the sport’s status in FCPS, Tamashiro anticipates 2024 will be another strong season for the McLean High team, which only had two seniors who will graduate this school year.
“It was a crazy, crazy season,” Tamashiro said. “But again, we got a lot of talented boys. A lot of them are going to play at the next level. A lot of them will end up playing in college.”
Students at schools across Fairfax County have or are planning to walk out this week in a show of solidarity with Palestinians suffering in the latest war between Israel and Hamas, the militant group that governs the Gaza Strip.
Dubbed a “Humanitarian Walkout Week,” the demonstrations began last Friday (Oct. 20) at Annandale High School and continued on Monday (Oct. 23) at Justice High School in Lake Barcroft. Organizers at Oakton High School reported that at least 200 students participated in their walkout yesterday (Tuesday).
Additional walkouts are expected at Edison and Mount Vernon high schools today, Woodson and Falls Church high schools tomorrow (Thursday), and McLean and Lake Braddock high schools on Friday (Oct. 27).
The walkouts are being organized by each school’s Muslim Student Association, though not all participants are members of those clubs.
In a press release, the students said they want an end to the bombing that Israel has unleashed on Gaza in response to the Oct. 7 attack by Hamas, which killed an estimated 1,400 people and took over 200 people hostage, including the relatives of a Fairfax County native.
They also called for an end to Israel’s 16-year blockade of Gaza and an end to its occupation of the Palestinian territories of Gaza and the West Bank.
“We’ve been fighting with this for decades, and we’re scared into silence every time, but this time, we’re not going to be silent,” a student at the Justice High School rally said. “We will continue to speak up against the genocide and the ethnic cleansing that’s currently happening in Palestine. We will not stop until Palestine is free.”
Another student encouraged other attendees to “come together to come together to advocate for a peaceful resolution to the crisis in Palestine.”
“It is about recognizing that every life is precious and that peace is not a dream, but an achievable reality,” she said.
Supported by funding and supplies from the U.S., the Israeli military has unleashed hundreds of airstrikes on Gaza since the Oct. 7 attack. More than 5,000 people have been killed, the Gaza Ministry of Health has said, and over 1.4 million people have fled their homes, according to news reports.
The U.S. government has expressed continued support for Israel, its longtime ally, and resisted calls for it to back a ceasefire, including from the United Nations, some Congressional representatives and staffers, and Jewish activists.
U.S. officials have been involved in Israel’s hostage negotiations with Hamas, and in a visit to Tel Aviv last week, President Joe Biden urged Israel to allow humanitarian aid into Gaza, which was cut off from food, water, electricity, medical supplies and other necessities. A handful of trucks with aid were permitted this past weekend for the first time since Israel’s siege began, though the U.N. agency working with Palestinian refugees says the situation remains dire, particularly with fuel running out.
A poll released last week found that a majority of U.S. voters agree the government should call for a ceasefire and help deescalate the violence in Gaza.
“The red stripes of the American flag are painted in the blood of the countries we’ve stepped on to get to this point and we refuse to inherit a world where hate and injustice is fueled by greed,” Holly Raheb, a sophomore at McLean High School, said.
Six of the 10 best high schools in Northern Virginia belong to Fairfax County Public Schools, as newly declared by Northern Virginia Magazine.
For its recently published October issue, the magazine’s editorial staff ranked the top 25 top public high schools in the region based on graduation and chronic absenteeism rates, Standards of Learning test pass rates, and other data from the 2021-2022 school year.
Unsurprisingly leading the way is Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology (TJ), the competitive magnet school near Lincolnia that has mostly made headlines in recent years for the political and legal battles over changes to its admissions policies.
Despite the ongoing debate over admissions and the diversity of its student body, TJ “remains the leading high school both in our region, and in the Commonwealth of Virginia,” FCPS Superintendent Michelle Reid said in a statement to FFXnow.
In addition to topping Northern Virginia Magazine’s list, TJ was named the fifth best high school, the number-one magnet school and the fourth best science, technology, engineer and math-focused high school in the country by U.S. News and World Report, which released its annual, nationwide public high school rankings in August.
In an interview with Northern Virginia Magazine, TJ principal Ann Bonitatibus said the school has focused increasingly on student wellness since she arrived six years ago. Three-quarters of students reported experiencing a stress-related health issue in a survey conducted in 2018.
“Being mindful of overall wellness has become a natural part of the fabric of TJHSST, so we are now turning our attention to innovative practices,” Bonitatibus said. “TJHSST has been known as a leader in academic and extracurricular arenas, so it’s important we remain contemporary as we equip our students with skills that will be transferable in their future.”
TJ wasn’t the only Fairfax County school to make a splash in the magazine’s rankings.
FCPS swept the top three spots, with Langley High School and McLean High School coming in at no. 2 and 3, respectively. Oakton High School followed close behind at no. 5, though Loudoun County’s Freedom High School prevented FCPS from fully taking over the top five.
Other Fairfax County schools to make the list include:
- Vienna’s Madison High School (no. 6)
- Robinson Secondary School (no. 10)
- Woodson High School (no. 17)
- West Springfield High School (no. 20)
- Chantilly High School (no. 22)
- Lake Braddock Secondary School (no. 23)
- Marshall High School in Idylwood (no. 24)
TJ, Langley, McLean, Oakton, Marshall and Woodson were also ranked among the top 10 public high schools in Virginia for 2023 by the U.S. News and World Report.
Reid said she was “honored to learn that Northern Virginia Magazine ranks our high schools as among the best in Northern Virginia.”
“Overall, the rankings reflect FCPS’ commitment to excellence, equity, and opportunity as we launch our seven-year Strategic Plan, which will ensure every student has the chance to meet their greatest potential from now through 2030,” Reid said. “With this plan, I am confident FCPS will remain Virginia’s education leader for years to come.”
The McLean Community Center is on the lookout for local teens who are in tune with what kids these days enjoy.
The community center has launched a new MCC Youth Ambassador initiative that invites students from McLean and Langley high schools to provide input on and promote events at their schools and online.
MCC provides programming for older kids and teens through its Old Firehouse Center (OFC) at 1440 Chain Bridge Road. The facility generally attracts middle school-aged students, but attendance dips once kids enter high school, according to minutes from the governing board’s Sept. 28 meeting.
“I think the reason why is that they felt that it was more of MCC telling them to come — rather than it being a high school-oriented and high school-planned event publicized throughout social media,” said Charlotte Loving, who represents the Langley High School area on the board.
Conceived by Loving and Sarah Tran, who represents McLean High on the board, the initiative is open to all students enrolled in those two schools who live in MCC’s tax district, known as Dranesville Small District 1A.
Here’s more on the volunteer positions from MCC’s announcement, released on Friday (Nov. 18):
Youth Ambassadors will serve as liaisons between community youth and the two youth members of the MCC Governing Board, Sarah Tran (Langley High boundary area) and Charlotte Loving (McLean High boundary area). The ambassadors will promote MCC activities via their social media platforms and through resources at their respective schools. They will also assist in planning events and activities targeted to the youth of McLean in support of acquiring their growing participation in MCC programs. Ambassadors will meet monthly at MCC or the Old Firehouse Center to discuss public feedback and plan future activities.
Applications can be found on the MCC website and sent when completed to MCC General Programs Director Michael Fisher at firstname.lastname@example.org. The deadline to apply is Friday, Dec. 9.
According to the website, the ambassador program is currently considered a pilot. If deemed successful, it could expand to allow participants from private high schools in the tax district.
(Updated at 6:25 p.m. on 11/6/2022) Fairfax County Public Schools might be underestimating future overcrowding in the Tysons area, a new report from the McLean Citizens Association (MCA) says.
FCPS typically forecasts enrollment over the next five years in its annual Capital Improvement Program (CIP). A breakdown of that report alongside analysis of the county’s proffers — developer contributions required to offset the impact of new projects on local infrastructure — suggests higher future population counts in the Tysons area than what FCPS is predicting.
Jim Beggs, chairman of MCA’s Education and Youth Committee, presented the findings at a meeting of the MCA on Wednesday (Nov. 2), starting at the 23:53 mark.
“FCPS staff does projections every year for five years,” Beggs said. “Their projections focused on trends in migration in and out of the county, transfers within our area, and birth rate trends in our area.”
FCPS develops its own density projections to estimate what is going to happen in the schools, but Beggs said the specifics of development around Tysons might get lost in the mix as staff analyzes density countywide.
Part of the county’s proffer analysis includes estimates of a development’s impact on public schools, and Beggs said those numbers don’t always line up with the school system’s projections.
“The Tysons Corner area, we think, is a different animal,” Beggs said. “There’s a tremendous amount of development going on, and we think this analysis should be supplemented by a look at what is going on and how is the development activity looking like it’s going to impact our schools. If we look at that projection, how does it compare to the FCPS staff CIP projection?”
Beggs said comparing the two reports showed seven schools where the impact in the proffers is significantly higher than what FCPS is predicting:
Spring Hill Elementary School
- FCPS projection: 101% capacity in five years
- Proffers data: 136-147% capacity
- Disparity between the two reports: 35-46%
Marshall High School
- FCPS projection: 92% capacity in five years, if the modular units at the school are included
- Proffers data: 109-115% capacity
- Disparity: 17-23%
Kilmer Middle School
- FCPS projection: 89% capacity in five years with modular units included
- Proffers data: 110-116% capacity
- Disparity: 21-27%
Westbriar Elementary School
- FCPS projection: 83% capacity in five years
- Proffers data: 109-134% capacity
- Disparity: 26-51%
Westgate Elementary School
- FCPS projection: 85% capacity in five years
- Proffers data: 134-148% capacity
- Disparity: 50-64%
McLean High School
- FCPS projection: 105% capacity in five years
- Proffers data: 123-124% capacity
- Disparity: 17-19%
Longfellow Middle School
- FCPS projection: 92% capacity in five years
- Proffers data: 108-111% capacity
- Disparity: 16-19%
Beggs said those figures from the proffers data backs up existing concerns in the community about overcrowding in McLean High School.
All of these schools are impacted by new residential development on going in the Tysons area, Beggs said, adding that he mostly wants FCPS to just double check the math on the student population projections for the area.
“I’m saying, ‘We’d like you to take a look at these four or five schools that are heading to trouble,” Beggs said. “You’re looking at 198 [schools]. We’re asking you to focus on four or five in our area. In general, capacity issues can be solved by border adjustments, capital renovation, or putting a modular in. At the end of the day, we’re recommending staff go back and take a second look.”
Elaine Tholen, who represents the Dranesville District, including McLean, on the Fairfax County School Board says she has seen MCA’s report and has scheduled a meeting with FCPS staff to review the data.
“As always, I appreciate the work of MCA,” she said.
McLean High School teacher Jeffrey Brocketti can’t wait to tell everyone what he discussed with host Pat Sajak during a “Wheel of Fortune” commercial break.
When it comes to solving the hangman-style word puzzles, though, even Brocketti may draw a blank when he turns on the TV next week — a common phenomenon, based on conversations with fellow contestants.
“They don’t remember all the puzzles from their show, which sounds ridiculous,” Brocketti told FFXnow. “You’d think this would just be burned into your brain, but it’s not. So, I’m kind of looking forward to seeing the episode, just seeing how it went and does it match my memory of it.”
Brocketti, who has taught physics and astronomy at McLean High for over a decade, describes the experience of filming a show he watched as a child as “surreal.”
He applied to become a contestant “on a whim” in April 2021 at the suggestion of his wife and one of his kids. Initially, he dismissed the idea, but while “sitting around” a few weeks later, he decided it couldn’t hurt, especially since the pandemic had pushed the entire tryout process online.
After submitting the form and a 30-second video pitch, Brocketti admits he forgot about the whole enterprise until this past January, when an unexpected email appeared in his inbox: he’d been selected to participate in a virtual audition.
“The first thing I did was check the email address to make sure it wasn’t some sort of phishing email,” he said. “I thought it was a scam, and once I figured out it was legit, then I realized, oh, this might actually happen.”
Told in February that he made the cut, Brocketti set his DVR to record “Wheel” and watched each night with his family, pretending to compete against the contestants on screen with a pen as a mock buzzer.
He fell out of the routine around mid-April, though, so a backlog of over 70 episodes had accumulated by the time he was told that his episode would film at the Sony Pictures Studios lot in Culver City, California on July 28.
“I watched over three months’ worth of episodes in two weeks,” Brocketti recalled with a laugh. “So, that was my preparation. Just watch the show and play against the people on TV and try and get better at it.”
In some ways, competing in person was easier than at home, Brocketti says. Unlike on TV, contestants can always see the boards displaying each puzzle and the used letters, and after going through two dress rehearsals, his nervousness evaporated once the real game started.
However, the “flood of information that you have in your brain” made it hard to focus and fully digest the experience, he added.
Brocketti isn’t the first person to represent Fairfax County on “Wheel,” following in the footsteps of a former Chantilly Little League coach who won nearly $123,000. He encourages anyone interested in competing on the show to give it a shot.
“Just try it out, and see what happens,” he said.
Person Hospitalized After Vienna Shooting — “Officers are in the 8400 blk of Wesleyan St in Vienna for a shooting. Prelim info, a man shot a roommate inside the home. Victim taken to hospital w/non-life-threatening inj. Suspect is in custody.” [FCPD/Twitter]
Report: Police Declare Personnel Emergency — “Fairfax County Police Chief Kevin Davis and senior staff declared a personnel emergency Thursday, according to a police source, which means mandatory overtime for police officers as FCPD grapples with an ongoing police officer shortage.” [ABC7]
Affordable Housing Projects Get State Funds — Virginia has awarded more than $27 million in state loans for affordable and special needs housing projects, including two in Fairfax County, Virginia Gov. Glenn Youngkin’s office announced last week. The county’s recipients were the Autumn Willow project near Centreville and the One University project by George Mason University’s Fairfax campus. [Patch]
Argument Leads to Stabbing in Centreville — A 32-year-old woman from Falls Church stabbed another woman in the 5700 block of Ottawa Road last Tuesday (July 26) after they got into a dispute, Fairfax County police say. The woman was arrested and charged with malicious wounding. The victim received treatment for injuries not considered life threatening. [FCPD]
Herndon Education Company Plans Reston Move — “Stride Inc. will start the school year in drastically smaller space in a new building. The Herndon educational-technology company is slashing its local office space by more than 80% — moving out of approximately 129,000 feet of office space in Herndon and into 22,000 square feet in a new office it will officially open this fall in Reston’s Plaza America.” [Washington Business Journal]
Instagram Account Shows Maintenance Issues at McLean HS — “The bio for the account @mclean.rot on Instagram reads, ‘The best single word to define this school is ‘gross.” With 71 posts, the anonymous student owner of @mclean.rot has been posting an unvarnished look at McLean High School since February, detailing for all a need for serious maintenance.” [Fairfax County Times]
Chantilly Park Gets Grant to Monitor Water — “Fairfax Water recently awarded Ellanor C. Lawrence Park Friends a Water Supply and Protection Grant in the amount of $1,437 in support of ECLP’s water quality monitoring program…This grant will provide funding for on-site water quality monitoring to address potential pollution threats from nearby construction projects.” [FCPA]
Kings Park Neighborhood Gets Spotlight — “Aside from the people and neighborhood celebrations, the amenities and surrounding businesses have also compelled residents to stay in the area. Charlotte Hannagan, a resident since 2014 and Kings Park Civic Association vice president of social outreach, noted that there’s so much within walking distance of the neighborhood.” [The Washington Post]
It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 84 and low of 71. Sunrise at 6:11 am and sunset at 8:22 pm. [Weather.gov]
Depp-Heard Defamation Trial Starts Today — “Three years after actor Johnny Depp sued his ex-wife, actress Amber Heard, for defamation over an op-ed she wrote for The Washington Post about being a survivor of domestic abuse, the case is going to trial on Monday in Fairfax County Circuit Court in Virginia.” [The Washington Post]
Reston Man Indicted for Animal Cruelty — “Sheheryar Kamran, a 20-year-old resident of Reston, Virginia, was indicted on three federal charges related to animal cruelty for allegedly creating and posting videos on social media showing him abusing and killing hamsters. Kamran pleaded ‘not guilty’ in a federal court in Alexandria on February 24, 2022. He is currently awaiting trial set for May 16, 2022.” [FOX5]
TJ Admissions Lawsuit Could go to Supreme Court — The Coalition for TJ, a community group opposed to Thomas Jefferson High School for Science and Technology’s new admissions policy, has filed an emergency application to the U.S. Supreme Court seeking to vacate a stay of a judge’s order striking down the changes. Chief Justice John Roberts gave the Fairfax County School Board until Wednesday (April 13) to respond. [Associated Press/WTOP]
Portion of I-66 West to Close Overnight — All westbound lanes will close at Route 28 between 11 p.m. and 4:30 a.m. today (Monday) through Friday, requiring a detour. Crews will install bridge beams for the new Route 28 South bridge as part of the sweeping project to add express lanes on I-66. [VDOT]
Chantilly School Introduces “Walking Club” — The introduction of recess at Rocky Run Middle School this year inspired a teacher to supervise a ‘walking club’ for students and teachers who spend the break taking a stroll outside. The activity is part of a countywide pilot in anticipation of Fairfax County Public Schools requiring recess for middle schools this fall, a policy set to be approved Thursday (April 14). [WTOP]
Tysons Dim Sum Restaurant Enters D.C. — “After opening two grand dim sum parlors in the suburbs, restaurateur Chris Zhu is ready to expand to DC. The China Garden (Rockville) and Han Palace (Tysons) owner will open a 70-seat branch of her Cantonese restaurant in Woodley Park on Sunday, April 10.” [Washingtonian]
McLean HS Lands New Football Coach — “Prior to accepting the job as the new McLean High School head football coach, Joe Cockerham held a variety of positions on different high school and college staffs. Cockerham, 34, believes those experiences will help him build a consistent winner of the Highlanders at McLean.” [Sun Gazette]
Hybla Valley Walmart Shoplifting Leads to Assault — Police responding to a shoplifting complaint at 7910 Richmond Highway reportedly found a 35-year-old man and a 30-year-old woman concealing merchandise. The woman ran, and the man assaulted officers. The man was arrested and taken to the hospital for injuries not considered life threatening. [FCPD]
McLean Symphony Marks 50th Anniversary — The McLean Symphony held a concert at Capital One Hall on Saturday (April 9) to celebrate 50 years of existence, all of them led by conductor Dingwall Fleary. The concert featured two premieres of original compositions, including one by a local student, and the attendance of Lt. Gov. Winsome Sears.
It’s Monday — Partly cloudy throughout the day. High of 66 and low of 41. Sunrise at 6:39 am and sunset at 7:43 pm. [Weather.gov]
Suspect in Attacks on Unhoused People Previously Jailed in Fairfax County — “Gerald Brevard III, 30, had been in and out of jail in D.C., Virginia and Maryland on varying charges including assaulting a police officer and shoplifting, court records show. Most recently he served several months in Fairfax County jail after he was arrested on an abduction charge that was reduced to misdemeanor assault in a plea agreement.” [The Washington Post]
Man Arrested for Herndon Sexual Assault — “Andy Josue Calix Mejia, 23, of Sterling was arrested for sexually assaulting a juvenile last year in the Town of Herndon, according police…The incident happened March 25, 2021, in the 500 block of Florida Avenue.” [Patch]
Part of Springfield Town Center for Sale — Pennsylvania Real Estate Investment Trust disclosed in an earnings release Monday (March 14) that it is selling a hotel development parcel at Springfield Town Center for $2.5 million. Roughly 3 million square feet of new development are planned at the 78-acre mall campus, which will host the D.C. area’s first LEGO Discovery Center next year. [Washington Business Journal]
Local Kid Designs App to Improve Virtual Learning — “Kingsley Thach, a third-grader at Willow Springs Elementary off Braddock Road in western Fairfax, said the app, inspired by the pandemic and launched in January, helps to bridge the communication gap between students, teachers and parents.” [Inside NoVA]
Scottish Police Tour FCPD Facilities — “Police officials from Scotland visited the Fairfax County Police Department last week to tour the department’s facilities and learn the latest policing techniques and strategies from the largest jurisdiction in the Washington, D.C., metropolitan area.” [Patch]
Annandale Karaoke Bar Plans Opening — “Glam Karaoke could have a soft opening as early as this Friday, reports manager Chris Cho. It’s located in the former Kmart auto shop on 6369 John Marr Drive in what’s now called the East Gate Shopping Center.” [Annandale Today]
Vienna Prepares to Replace Invasive Trees — “The view will soon change along the Nutley Street median. Work is expected to begin next week to replace invasive Callery pear trees with native species. To learn more about the project, click here.” [Town of Vienna/Facebook]
McLean High School Runners Win State Titles — “In his final attempt to win the boys 1,000-meter race at the Virginia High School League’s Class 6 indoor track and field state championships, the McLean High School senior closed the deal. Running with a sore right hip, [Xavier] Jemison won in a personal-best time of 2:26.45 seconds, with that his race strategy working as planned.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]
It’s Wednesday — Rain overnight. High of 66 and low of 45. Sunrise at 7:20 a.m. and sunset at 7:18 p.m. [Weather.gov]