The athletics program at Western Albemarle High School is second to none in Virginia according to MaxPreps, a high school sports information aggregator owned by CBS Sports. Each year MaxPreps tabulates data about the national rankings and number of state championships collected by teams at every high school in the country to compile lists of the best of the best. With state championships in boys’ cross country, boys and girls swimming, and boys indoor track this year, plus a state runner-up finish in girls cross country and a high national ranking in boys cross country, WAHS was this year’s MaxPreps Cup champion in Virginia, beating out considerably bigger schools for the prize.
In the Virginia High School League, WAHS is designated a Class 3 school out of six classes based on school enrollment. In the MaxPreps Top 10 Virginia schools for 2020, all but one are larger than Western. In fact, WAHS’s point total landed them in 27th place on the MaxPreps national best-of listing, which ranks all high schools of all sizes.
“I think a big part of [the school’s success] is that the Western community as a whole values athletics and supports it, and they understand the benefits of being involved in sports,” said WAHS athletic director Steve Heon. “I think also the socio-economic status of our area allows kids to continue to participate as they get older, and of course our coaches do a great job coaching them up.”
Heon says that Western students naturally participate in lots of extracurricular activities—he estimates the school is in the top 10% statewide in student participation—and at WAHS there are plenty of avenues to choose from. “The students can really gravitate toward the sport that gives them the most opportunity over time,” he said, “and because we have such a large percentage of kids that participate in some VHSL activity, we’re able to fill teams with kids that have developed over time.”
Having served as athletic director at WAHS for the last 16 years, Heon was an assistant baseball coach and athletic administrator at U.Va. for the 17 years prior. While a few of the coaching staff predate him, Heon has hired most of the current coaches and credits them with communicating their shared philosophy to student athletes.
“We want to train our athletes to be the best possible, but also teach them things like how to work with others, work toward a common goal, and support one another,” he said. “Hopefully they can take those things with them.” Heon trusts that his coaches know their sport better than he does, and tries to support them so they can provide a positive experience as well as success in competition. “I don’t get into the X’s and O’s,” he said with a laugh, “or if I do, I keep it to myself.”
WAHS competes in 23 boys and girls VHSL sports each year, and this year’s truncated spring season due to school closures left some speculation as to how many more championships the school could have racked up. “We certainly had our eye on spring sports,” said Heon. “The odds were that both tennis teams and soccer could have made a good run, both lacrosse programs felt good, the track teams, particularly boys, would have made some noise, so it would have been interesting to see how it all played out.” Western won eight state titles over the 2018-19 school year..
As the COVID-19 restrictions are gradually lifted, Heon says some sports can return, though four—football, wrestling, competition cheerleading, and boys lacrosse—are considered high risk and will be limited. “Right now, we have the okay by VHSL to hold modified practices during the summer and hope to get things moving in early July, and if we can get to phase three [as defined by the Virginia Department of Education], that opens up the potential for competition for most sports,” he said.
Congratulations to Western athletics for giving us all so much to cheer about!