Standing Up

Standing up

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To borrow from Ernest Hemingway, it happened slowly and then all at once.

It exploded at a Jefferson District boys basketball quarterfinal clash with Louisa County. Then again in the semifinals and it went through the roof in the Jefferson District final.

Charlottesville's fan base and student population has galvanized in the past few weeks.

That’s just Charlottesville’s public coming out party. This didn’t happen overnight.

“I couldn’t be prouder,” said Charlottesville principal Thomas Taylor. “I think (the public) is seeing what we’ve been seeing in the halls happening the last few years.”

A wild, positively-focused student section burst on the scene at the Louisa game and kept it rolling at the two road games, filling up spirit buses as Charlottesville’s boys basketball program played in front of a coordinated, supportive and wild crowd for the first time in recent memory. Friday night there was a black and orange umbrella, the school’s fully-armored mascot, and enough of the Charlottesville standard “I love it, I love it” chant to satisfy even the most ardent supporter.

It took a series of frustrating circumstances to make that happen.

Charlottesville’s boys basketball squad, a powerful program with a number of recent state tournament appearances to its name, came under fire after its entanglement with Monticello in an incident in the two schools’ final regular season district game. The incident, which ended in the gym being cleared by security but with no violent action, eventually resulted in the suspension of eight Monticello players who left the bench area.

But it was Charlottesville that absorbed the brunt of the abuse in the public eye. Whether it was on message boards or in the media (one anecdote placed a re-airing of the incident’s footage on a Tidewater-area news station), assumptions about the school’s academic and athletic climate were dredged up and thrown in the face of Charlottesville’s students. Members of the community who weren’t even in the gym were generalizing about an entire school population with second-hand information.

That kind of talk galvanized the students at Charlottesville, and they arrived in droves at the home game Friday night February 10. The players dominated Louisa County in the Jefferson quarterfinals, then knocked off Fluvanna County in the semifinals to earn a spot in the tournament final. The crowd expanded and students spent lunch periods organizing and working on plans to support the basketball squad.

“We had a (morning announcement) where I talked about how only one group — our students — is capable of changing the perception,” Taylor said. “It stinks that it took a negative event — it shouldn’t have happened — but that’s what happened. They’re invested. They’re enacting the change.”

Charlottesville's crowd celebrates during the Black Knights' Jefferson District tournament final victory.

The players and the students supporting them responded, not with words, but with action. And a lot of noise. While CHS games have always been well-attended, the enthusiasm has never been matched.

The excitement and pride is a reflection of what’s going on inside the school each day. Taylor admits that the group of seniors attending Charlottesville came into a chaotic school environment. For a school with just over 1,000 students, there were 4,000 disciplinary office visits in 2007-2008. That number is now down to 770, a number that still bothers Taylor, of course, but is a massive improvement. The school's on-time graduation rate is at a historic high right now too according to Taylor.

That improvement in the school’s everyday involvement led naturally to the outpouring of school spirit. Those students are doing nothing short of defending their own school’s honor in a public forum where they felt like it was misconstrued. There’s no misconstruing it now.

“They’ve changed the dynamic,” Taylor said. “The Black Knight nation has arrived.”

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