Dec. 3, 2015
CHARLOTTESVILLE -- Tuesday morning hoops is coming to John Paul Jones Arena, and it promises to be a novel experience for everyone involved.
During most University of Virginia women's basketball games at JPJ, curtains cover the upper-level seats. That won't be the case Tuesday, when more than 7,000 elementary and middle school students visit the 14,593-seat arena for UVA's 11 a.m. game against Bowling Green.
The curtains will be raised for this contest, as they are for all men's basketball home games at JPJ, and the women's team can't wait to play in this environment.
"To get screaming kids in the building is like having a sixth man," head coach Joanne Boyle said.
In what Boyle hopes will become a tradition at JPJ, Virginia is hosting a Field Trip Day on Tuesday. The crowd will include about 7,300 students, teachers and chaperones from some 40 area elementary and middle schools.
Tickets will be complimentary for every member of those groups as part of membership in UVA's Cavman's Crew program. Moreover, each student will receive a T-shirt and an activity booklet printed by The Daily Progress newspaper.
"It's a great way for us to reach out to the community, and particularly to youth," said Todd Goodale, UVA's senior associate athletics director for external affairs.
"There are plenty of kids who will come to this game that have never been to the University before. And so it's a great entrée into university life, into what being on a college campus can be."
Among the schools participating is Walker Upper Elementary, which is sending about 540 students and 150 staff members to the game. In March, Walker became the first school to commit to the event.
"Our whole school is coming," principal Vernon Bock said. "We're excited. When they offered us the opportunity, I jumped on it right away."
Registration for the event closed Nov. 2. Other schools planning to bring all their students to the game include Henley Middle School (about 860), Cale Elementary and Johnson Elementary.
Bock, a former girls basketball coach, said he believes "sports are a natural connection to academics, and there's a lot of learning that goes with sports."
UVA women's basketball players have visited Walker, Bock said, to meet with students and emphasize the importance of academics.
"Getting them in the classroom here and being visible in our school and making connections with kids is important," Bock said.
Community service is an integral part of Boyle's program, and she said her players regularly visit area schools.
"Young kids always want someone to look up to and aspire to," Boyle said. "We've always done that, and now we get to reward them with a game."
Boyle coached at the University of California before coming to UVA in 2010. At Cal, Boyle said, "We always threw a Field Trip Day kind of thing, and it was huge."
She expects next week's event to be similarly successful.
"It'll be great for our players, and it'll be great for the community," Boyle said. "There's been a lot of buzz in the community. People have been coming up to me and saying, `We're bringing our class to the game.' "
For many of the participating students, their trip to JPJ will mark their first time on a college campus.
"I think we take for granted that we live in the backyard of UVA," Bock said. "I wanted to give all of our kids the opportunity to have that exposure and see that excitement."
The activity booklets students receive will include advice from UVA student-athletes, information on the University, and tips on nutrition.
"There's an educational piece to it," Boyle said, "and we'll highlight what it takes to get here and what our student-athletes have to do" in the classroom and the court.
There will also, of course, be a basketball game. The school groups will sit in pre-assigned sections of JPJ, and season-ticket holders and fans who have purchased reserved seats for the game will not be displaced.
"Not only the lower bowl but the upper bowl is going to have a great crowd," Goodale said. "The atmosphere's going to be different. That's really advantageous for our women's basketball program, but I think it's also a great opportunity for the kids to come to the University."
NOTE: All season-ticket holders for Virginia women's basketball season are asked to park in the JPJ Garage for this game to make room for school buses parking in the arena's main parking lot.
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A 1985 graduate of UVA, White worked at the Richmond Times-Dispatch until July 2009. He was honored six times as the state's Sportswriter of the Year.
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