Athletic Home Away from Home

Local high school football team gets a boost from practicing at Mason

In early December, workers cleared the snow off Mason’s sprint turf athletic field and set up floodlights—but not for any of the university’s teams. Oakton High School’s varsity football team was preparing for the state championship against a nationally ranked team and needed to take its training regimen up a notch. The effort paid off. Oakton’s team, the Cougars, won the Virginia AAA Division 6 State Championship in an upset victory over the defending champion Landstown High School Eagles, 28-7.

“Mason had a role in our success, and we are grateful for the hospitality,” says Oakton coach and Mason alumnus Joe Thompson, BA English ’94. Thompson, working with Oakton’s Director of Student Activities Phil Levine,  BSEd Physical Education ’94, MEd Educational Leadership ’00, and Liaison Mike Sullenberger, a former groundskeeper at Mason, arranged for use of  the field with the Department of Intercollegiate Athletics a week before the championship game.

Thompson, who attended university athletic camps while a student-athlete and later a coach, found working with Mason a pleasant experience. “We were met on the first day, welcomed to campus, and taken care of all week,” says Thompson. “I can’t say enough about how well Mason treated us. “[The university staff members] have always gone out of their way to create a positive relationship with the community,” he continues. “Athletics for school-age children in this area is a big deal. I think there is opportunity for both the school and the community to benefit from a close relationship between Intercollegiate Athletics and high school sports.”

“We maintain a great relationship with all the high schools and try to accommodate them whenever possible,” says Mickey McDade, Mason’s senior associate athletic director.

The use of the fields may have made all the difference. Washington Post reporter Liam Dillon wrote about the championship game: “Oakton’s Keith Payne sprinted the length of the field—outrunning everyone once again—after the final play Saturday, collapsing in the end zone and followed by teammates who piled on the senior standout.” That’s what the Cougars needed—a little more room to run.

Colleen Kearney Rich, MFA ’95, and Christopher Anzalone, BA History ’05 and BA Religious Studies ’05, contributed to this story.

Joe Thompson