Newsletter

Morning Notes

Fairfax County Native Earns Super Bowl Ring — “Years before making it to the most elite game in football, Nick Scott, the starting safety for the Rams, suited up for Fairfax High School, where he wowed fans, connected with coaches, and made lifelong friendships.” [FCPS/Inside NoVA]

Vienna Reexamines Leaf Collection Practices — The Vienna Town Council will hold a public hearing on March 21 to get feedback on potential changes to the town’s practice of collecting leaves and turning them into mulch. Alternatives proposed by a contractor would eliminate mulch delivery and the use of a controversial facility on Beulah Road. [Sun Gazette]

Valentine’s Cards Delivered to School Employees — “7,000 personal valentine cards were delivered to FCPS staff members in more than 40 schools last week as a part of the @VolunteerFFX annual #Valentines Challenge. Thank you @GrandInvolve & all who supported the effort!” [FCPS/Twitter]

Masks No Longer Required in Falls Church City Schools — Falls Church City Public Schools now allows parents to opt their children out of wearing masks, following through on a plan announced last month as COVID-19 cases continue to fall. Students who aren’t wearing masks and haven’t been vaccinated are required to participate in weekly PCR testing screenings. [WTOP]

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Ilia Malinin, a 17-year-old junior at George C. Marshall High School in Idylwood, is serving as the first alternate for the men’s singles team at the Olympic Games this month.

The placement is an honor itself, but with sports continuing amid the COVID-19 pandemic, there’s a higher than usual chance that Malinin could compete in the 2022 Winter Olympics in Beijing, which will kick off with the opening ceremony at 6 a.m. tomorrow (Friday).

“As an alternate this year, anyone at any time could test positive, so you just have to be ready to go,” Malinin told Fairfax County Public Schools for a blog post.

Malinin’s parents both competed in the Olympics and had illustrious careers in singles figure skating.

His mother, Tatiana Malinina, finished eighth at the 1998 Winter Olympics in Japan while representing Uzbekistan. His father, Roman Skorniakov, also represented Uzbekistan at the 1998 Games and again in 2002 in Salt Lake City. He finished 19th each time.

Last month, Malinin won second place at the U.S. Figure Skating Championships, earning him a silver medal. But U.S. Figure Skating chose Jason Brown, Nathan Chen, and Vincent Zhou for the men’s singles team, a controversial decision that left many heartbroken.

Team selections can include subjective factors, though, and the committee looks at multiple competitions of skaters.

The Games run through Feb. 20 with primetime TV coverage on NBC. Live-streamed events will be available through the network’s Peacock streaming service, among other options.

The ice skating schedule has the men’s singles program starting tomorrow with the medal event on Feb. 10.

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A plunger jumps into a pool in Merrifield’s Mosaic District (courtesy Special Olympics Virginia)

A fundraiser that was frozen last year by the coronavirus pandemic is coming back with a new location at the Mosaic District.

Special Olympics Virginia last held a polar plunge at Penny Lane Park in Merrifield in 2020 to help with its programming aimed at serving people with intellectual disabilities. Now, the event is slated to return this year on Jan. 15, with a costume contest at 1 p.m. and people jumping into the water at 1:15 p.m.

This time, though, the nonprofit’s event will have pools in the Mosaic District’s main park and pedestrian area, located by Target along Strawberry Lane.

The donations help individuals participate in the organization’s athletic training and compete at Olympic-like events, while providing school-based programming and health screenings for free to recipients.

“In early 2020 our polar plunges helped sustain us through the first year of the pandemic, and we hope [that] this year, our first year back to in person plunging, they will help continue to get us back on the playing field,” Ellen Head, senior director of development for Special Olympics Virginia, said in an email.

Special Olympics Virginia officials have been watching COVID-19 case numbers and discussing how they should proceed, given concerns over the worsening spread of the virus. Organizers have been reassured by the outside nature of the event — a lower risk environment for the spread of the virus — as well as a masking requirement for parts of the event.

Like other organizations, the nonprofit’s donations have declined amid the pandemic, but it has added virtual programming for participants that it plans to continue beyond the lifespan of the virus.

The organization has raised over $24,000 of a $30,000 goal. Head said it hopes to multiply that goal in coming years.

Photo courtesy Special Olympics Virginia

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Morning Notes

FCPS Superintendent Search Underway — The Fairfax County School Board discussed the process and timeline for hiring a new superintendent to replace Scott Brabrand, who will leave the position on June 30. The Fairfax County Public Schools community will be able to provide input in an emailed survey next week and focus groups scheduled for mid-January. [FCPS]

Vienna Refines Plans for ARPA Funds — “Vienna officials are leaning toward spending millions of dollars on capital-improvement projects to make the most of an infusion of federal COVID-relief funds…Town officials in the next three to six months will need to devise a final plan for the ARPA funds, which must be spent by 2024, Finance Director Marion Serfass told the Vienna Town Council at a Dec. 13 work session.” [Sun Gazette/Inside NoVA]

Local Hyatt House Officially Rebrands — “The Hyatt House in the Mosaic District of Merrifield officially changed hands Wednesday and donned its new Archer Hotel Falls Church name. As part of the acquisition, Archer Hotel will be conducting a design overhaul of the former Hyatt House Falls Church/Merrifield, with a spring unveiling of the luxury boutique hotel.” [Patch]

Pickleball Study Formally Endorsed — “The Fairfax County Park Authority Board endorsed the Park Authority Pickleball Study Report at their regular meeting on Dec. 8, 2021. The report will serve as a guiding document for Park Authority pickleball site planning criteria, design and operations of pickleball facilities.” [FCPA]

Annual Hiking Photo Contest to Return¬†— “First Hike Fairfax returns with even more award categories, including a new Best in Show (Pets) award. This year, First Hike Fairfax will be a two-day weekend event (Jan. 1-2, 2022) to help promote social distancing and prevent crowding on the trails on one day.” [FCPA]

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(Updated at 11 a.m. on 12/10/2021) This coming spring, Tysons residents and visitors will be able to scale a rock wall, host a Zoom meeting, and grab their morning coffee all in one place.

The Manassas-based Vertical Rock Climbing and Fitness plans to open a second gym in the Best Buy-anchored shopping center at 8461 Leesburg Pike, near The Boro and the Spring Hill Metro station, as the Washington Business Journal reported in August.

The new, 12,000 square-foot facility will contain not only rock walls for bouldering, a form of rock climbing that doesn’t use ropes, but also a ground-floor coffee shop and coworking space that will be open to both gym members and the general public.

“Coffee and climbing go together,” Vertical Rock co-owner and CEO Ian Colton told Tysons Reporter. “A lot of climbers like coffee, and we personally have a huge affection for coffee. We want to make sure we come up with a premium coffee shop, and it’s reflected in the layout and design we’re bringing to the table.”

Called Basecamp Coffee Roasters, the coffee shop will essentially operate like a separate business that just happens to share the same building.

While options like online ordering will be available for those looking to grab a cup of coffee on the go, Colton envisions a Central Perk-like hangout spot that encourages people to linger, catching up with friends or on work — possibly after breaking a sweat at the gym upstairs.

“We want to make this atmosphere as friendly, inviting, and engaging as we possibly can,” he said. “…With the new normal of not necessarily working in an office and a lot of remote school, where the new norm is to be able to kind of social distance but also be there and present, this facility can give you all of that.”

The inclusion of a coffee shop is one way that Vertical Rock is adapting its concept to the more urban environment that drew the company to Tysons after launching in Manassas in 2012.

Where the Manassas center features 55-foot-tall rock walls with ropes for climbing, the smaller Tysons facility will focus exclusively on bouldering, with walls ranging from 14 to 16 feet in height and 14 inches of floor padding for protection.

The shift reflects the more limited amount of space available in an increasingly dense area like Tysons. Vertical Rock spent about five years looking for a location in the Fairfax County area before finding the Leesburg Pike space, according to Colton.

Bouldering also gives users more flexibility since, unlike rope-based rock climbing, it can be done solo, requires minimal equipment, and allows participants to move at their own pace, Colton says.

The Tysons facility will accommodate different ages and levels of experience, from beginners to athletes training for the Olympics, which featured sport climbing as an official event for the first time this year.

“All you need really is a chalk bag and a pair of climbing shoes, and you can get in and you can climb,” Colton said, noting that those items and other climbing gear will be available for rental or purchase.

Vertical Rock Tysons started pre-sales for its gym passes in November. It will offer one-day, monthly, annual, and flex passes.

Colton anticipates starting occupancy in mid-April, though the COVID-19 pandemic has had “a huge impact” on getting the facility in place. A sign posted to the site door still suggests that it will open this December.

Aware that people may still be wary of exercising indoors, Colton says Vertical Rock is designing the site to be spacious and making equipment and operational investments to create the safest possible environment.

“I think the biggest thing we’re really trying to bring to the table is a community-focused facility, and that being something that caters to local Fairfax County,” Colton said. “We want to continue the engagement for healthy and new ways of staying physically fit and connecting you to the outdoors, and that’s really been our mantra since we opened up.”

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A group of people play pickleball. (via Lauren Bryan/Flickr)

Interest in pickleball continues to rise and is sparking conversation about providing adequate courts in Fairfax County.

In response to requests for more facilities from pickleball players, the Fairfax County Park Authority is soliciting feedback from the community on potential plans for new courts or court lines.

The first site under consideration is Lewinsville Park in McLean. The FCPA presented potential plans to renovate or repurpose the tennis courts there during a virtual public meeting on Wednesday (Dec. 1).

“FCPA has addressed these requests in the past as opportunities presented themselves along routine maintenance,” FCPA project manager Adam Wynn said. “But with the high demand in all court sports and limited resources, there really needed to be a proactive and strategic approach to address these requests in a way that adds pickleball capacity, but also does so in a publicly beneficial and fiscally responsible way.”

The proposed project is part of an ongoing, countywide effort to determine how to address pickleball’s growing popularity as a sport. The park authority released a draft report of its study in September that included the results of an online survey and identified challenges with the county’s existing facilities and options for new ones.

The study recommends two layouts for courts. The first layout entails a shared-use court that is dual striped for tennis and pickleball. The second is a dedicated court for pickleball only.

Wynn said community responses identified McLean as a location that could support four or more pickleball courts to facilitate more drop-in play, where players arrive at courts without advance reservation.

In the greater McLean area, FCPA has two shared-use courts at Westgate, McLean Central, and Linway Terrace parks. Additionally, the Spring Hill Rec Center, Providence Community Center, and James Lee Community Center offer pickleball classes.

The Lewinsville Park tennis courts (via Google Maps)

Lewinsville Park was identified as a viable location for new pickleball courts because it met most of the criteria outlined in the draft report, such as allowing for courts to be grouped together, according to Wynn.

He added that the courts at the park are in need of repair, and improvements could add capacity for both tennis and pickleball purposes.

The park currently has six courts dedicated for only tennis and a practice wall. FCPA is evaluating three options that would all include new surfacing for the courts and retaining the practice wall.

The first option retains all six tennis courts but converts three of them into six shared-use pickleball courts. The second option has four dedicated pickleball courts, four dedicated tennis courts, and one shared-use tennis court that could also serve as two additional pickleball courts.

The third option is for six dedicated pickleball courts and four tennis courts.

During the open comment portion of the meeting, several community participants took issue with the idea of repurposing the tennis courts or sharing them with pickleball, arguing that there are not enough tennis courts in general.

Some pushed for pickleball courts to be constructed elsewhere while utilizing other park or amenity space.

According to Wynn, court use is on the rise in the county, with rental hours for park authority courts climbing 573.7% between 2020 and 2021, though the data isn’t broken down by the specific sport being played.

Comments on the potential project at Lewinsville Park will be accepted until Jan. 7, 2022, after which FCPA will settle on a development option. Emails may be sent to [email protected] or [email protected].

The final pickleball study report is expected to be published in early 2022. If approved, the overall completion of the Lewinsville project is anticipated in summer 2022.

Photos via Lauren Bryan/Flickr, Google Maps

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Morning Notes

County Proposes Expanding Tax Relief Program — “Today, the Fairfax County Board of Supervisors approved a public hearing on Dec. 7 to consider expanding the real estate tax relief program for seniors and people with disabilities…The expanded program would allow people with higher incomes and net worth to qualify, add a new 75% tax relief bracket and offer an option to defer tax payments.” [Fairfax County Government]

Man Sentenced in Falls Church Woman’s Drug-Related Death — “A former medical student from Ontario, Canada, was sentenced on Tuesday to one year in prison for distributing MDA — a psychedelic drug similar to MDMA, or “molly” — that resulted in the fatal overdose of a 21-year-old Falls Church woman in 2019, according to the U.S. attorney’s office.” [Patch]

MCA Takes Position on Tree Presevation Proposal — “McLean Citizens Association (MCA) board members on Nov. 3 commended the Fairfax County Tree Commission for crafting proposals to preserve the county’s tree canopy, but did not agree with all of the group’s recommendations…MCA’s resolution expressed concerns about the proposals regarding property setbacks and taller buildings.” [Sun Gazette]

Lewinsville Park Eyed for Pickleball Facilities — The Fairfax County Park Authority will present options to improve the park’s six existing tennis courts and introduce pickleball with a virtual public meeting at 7 p.m. on Dec. 1. The potential project aims to address growing demand for pickleball facilities in the greater McLean area. [FCPA]

Local Veterans’ Job Fair Is Big Draw — “One week before Veterans Day, representatives of 66 companies interviewed job-seekers at the first annual Veteran and Military Career Fair on Nov. 4, 2021…Geared toward assisting veterans, active-duty service members transitioning out of the military, and military spouses, the hybrid event was attended by 250 job-seekers at the museum, and 259 virtually attendees located around the world.” [Fairfax County Economic Development Authority]

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(Updated at 8:50 p.m. on 11/7/2021) Soccer players, Olympic medalists, public officials, businessmen, and an ambassador descended on Holladay Field (1311 Spring Hill Road) in McLean last weekend to celebrate the facility’s recently completed renovation.

The nearly 2,000 attendees at the Fairfax County Park Authority’s grand opening event on Saturday (Oct. 30) reflected the diversity of participants in the project, which converted the 5.1-acre park’s athletic field from natural to synthetic turf.

“This is a unique project with several key partners, each instrumental in helping to make this project possible and providing funding for this synthetic turf field conversion,” the park authority said in a news release yesterday (Thursday).

The new Holladay Field is a welcome addition to the area’s recreational facilities for McLean Youth Soccer, which said the available spaces for practices and games were insufficient to support its 3,000-plus players.

Synthetic turf requires less maintenance and provides “increased accessibility for user groups” than the existing natural turf, MYS Executive Director Louise Waxler says.

Working with the FCPA, the soccer association contributed $650,000 to the $1.5 million project and even agreed to provide movable side goals for the field when rising material costs pushed it over the available budget.

Donors to MYS included Leidos CEO Roger Krone and United Arab Emirates Ambassador to the U.S. Yousef Al Otaiba, who wanted to contribute as soccer fans and the parents of players, according to the FCPA.

Collectively, the private funding amounted to $725,000. The project also used public money from the county’s 2016 park bond.

Contractors began work on Holladay Field in June.

In addition to creating a full soccer field that can also be used for football, lacrosse, and field hockey, the project brought two underground stormwater management facilities, a bleacher pad, an access trail, and landscape improvements.

In addition to Krone and Al Otaiba, notable figures at the grand opening event included Benita Fitzgerald Mosley, who became the first African American woman to win an Olympic gold medal in the 100-meter hurdles in 1984, and five-time Paralympic swimmer Jessica Long.

Long’s husband Lucas Winters serves as the Elite Clubs National League coach and director of recreation for McLean Youth Soccer.

Washington Spirit captain Andi Sullivan and D.C. United mascot Talon made appearances as well, joining Long in signing autographs for the young soccer players in attendance, according to MYS.

“Thanks to [Dranesville District] Supervisor [John] Foust, the Fairfax County Park Authority, and the generous investment by Ambassador Yousef Al Otaiba of the UAE and Leidos, Inc., we became one step closer to meeting our field needs,” Waxler said by email. “This is not only an investment in our kids, but also an investment to the McLean community as a whole.”

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Rock Creek Park’s main tennis stadium during the Citi Open in August 2021 (Photo via USTA Mid-Atlantic Section, Inc.)

A junior tennis tournament series is coming to the nation’s capital this weekend, bearing the name of McLean tennis coach Matt Stevenson, who died at age 32 in 2017.

Launched in San Diego, California, in September, coinciding with National Suicide Awareness Month, the Matt Stevenson Junior Tennis Tournament Series takes place in D.C. this Saturday and Sunday (Oct. 2-3) at the Rock Creek Tennis Center, which hosted professional players for the Citi Open in August.

It’s the first and only junior tennis tournament event series to promote the importance of mental health for adolescents, according to the nonprofit U.S. Tennis Association’s Mid-Atlantic Section.

“The inspiration behind the MSJTT Series came from the late Matt Stevenson, a young tennis professional who lived and ran successful junior tennis programs in McLean and the DC region,” USTA Mid-Atlantic said. “Before tragically taking his own life in 2017 at the age of 32, he had written extensively about his own mental health issues and had asked that kids be made aware of the importance of staying mentally healthy and to seek help if they needed it.”

The tournament first started in 2019 in San Diego and expanded to D.C. and New York City last month as a collaboration between the nonprofit ProtoStar Foundation and the American Foundation for Suicide Prevention.

It seeks to “address the national teen depression, anxiety, and suicide crisis by engaging adolescents through a sport they love and promoting dialogue and understanding of these issues,” according to the Sept. 8 press release.

Talking to Tysons Reporter, Judith Stevenson recalled how her son came up with tennis games to entertain kids and teach them the basics of the game.

One game, King of the Court, involved players trying to get the ball past the instructor. When they scored a point against him, they would run around and get on top of him while he did push-ups.

“The fun that they were having was great,” she said. “He loved teaching the sport.”

Stevenson attended high school in Alexandria and college at Marymount University, coached young players and adults at McLean Racquet and Health Club, and served as the tennis director at Langley Club. He chose coaching as his profession.

Matthew Stevenson’s struggles with depression started in his early teens, with bouts of depression beginning in high school, his mother said.

Judith noted that it can be difficult for parents and coaches to figure out how to support a player who is experiencing challenges without becoming intrusive. However, she said it’s important to be willing to listen and to show respect by supporting a young person when they take charge of their own treatment.

She hopes events like the junior tennis tournament can help make talking about mental challenges akin to physical problems, such as sports injuries.

ProtoStar president and founder Gary Poon remarked that Stevenson built tennis programs from the ground up and was well loved in the community.

USTA Mid-Atlantic shared more details on the event, saying:

Mental health awareness among adolescents is crucial today as the youth mental health crisis continues to grow in the U.S., exacerbated most recently by the pandemic. The USTA Mid-Atlantic Section is emphasizing the important of mental health wellness among youth tennis players and has deemed Oct. 2-3 a mental health weekend featuring this and only one other sanctioned tournament that players may participate in the region, or they can choose to have a quiet weekend to rest, reset and focus on mental health. The American Foundation for Suicide Prevention and National Institute of Mental Health will have practical information available for parents and players in the tournament.

Matt Stevenson also wrote nearly 2,000 articles for the Mad in America (MIA) Foundation, a nonprofit that seeks to rethink and change how the psychiatric community uses medications, particularly over the long term.

Judith Stevenson said her son expressed concerns about the names of mental health disorders as well as the stigma attached to them, taking issue with language describing different conditions that he saw as pejorative.

Following Stevenson’s death by suicide in 2017, the MIA Foundation posted a tribute to his work interviewing experts and writing about mental health issues online, highlighting his efforts to read scientific literature on borderline personality disorder and books criticizing the validity of psychiatric disorders.

“The theme he sounded most often was about the spurious nature of psychiatric diagnoses and the harm such labels could cause,” the organization said.

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A field inside The St. James in Springfield (courtesy SportsNOVA)

Fairfax County has joined three other Virginia localities to create SportsNOVA, a marketing partnership aimed at promoting Northern Virginia as a destination for sporting events.

As the county’s official tourism organization, Visit Fairfax announced on Aug. 10 that it has aligned with the marketing arms of Loudoun, Prince William, and Strafford counties to promote and pitch the region.

The agencies believe the location, availability of already-built venues, and accessibility of public transportation make Northern Virginia an ideal place for sports tournaments, events, and championships.

Eric Kulczycky, Visit Fairfax’s national sales manager, says sports can be a huge economic driver for a region, and he hopes that this partnership can help better capture those dollars.

“[Sporting events] can generate taxes and jobs,” he said. “Through visitor spending like hotel stays, eating at restaurants, buying tickets to [events]…Our mission is to generate additional spending and get new money coming into our communities.”

There is evidence that sports drive considerable economic activity. One 2019 study conducted by a sports tourism trade association found that 180 million trips were made in the U.S. for sporting events — from youth to professional leagues — with more than half of those trips being overnight.

Visitors who stayed overnight spent $359 per person on average.

Northern Virginia has hosted a number of large sports events in recent years, including the 2015 World Police & Fire Games, the 2017 Senior PGA Championship, and a Kayak Bass Fishing tournament this past May.

The hope, Kulczycky says, is to entice more events of this nature, like regional hockey tournaments and more senior-centric sporting events.

One of the main selling points is that the county and region have a number of available venues, several of which are relatively new.

The St. James complex in Springfield opened in 2018 and has a multitude of facilities, including four NBA-size basketball courts, two NHL-size rinks, a 50-meter Olympic pool, and indoor turf fields.

There is also George Mason University’s EagleBank Arena, which is on the verge of a major renovation. Elsewhere, there is Segra Field, which opened in Loudoun County two years ago, and the Jeff Rouse Swim and Sport Center in Stafford, which was also only completed a few years ago.

Kulczycky says there have been preliminary conversations in Fairfax County about opening additional indoor and outdoor sporting complexes as well.

Not every Northern Virginia locality is part of this partnership. Notably, Arlington County isn’t in the consortium. Kulczycky says Arlington officials have not been currently actively pursuing the sports tourism market, but there’s an “open invitation” for them to join.

Kulczycky says the decision to combine forces with other localities was due to the realization that being together was better.

“There are multi-sport and large single-sport events that Fairfax County simply cannot host unless we secure facilities in other jurisdictions,” he said.

Plus, Kulczycky notes that a combined marketing campaign is more cost-effective.

SportsNOVA is simply an extension of what Fairfax County and Northern Virginia has been trying to do separately for years.

“I’ve been doing this for 15 years and there’s always been an interest in hosting sports tournaments in Fairfax County and Northern Virginia,” Kulczycky said. “So, we’re just continuing to look to expand opportunities in the sports market.”

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