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A Wide World of Sports

N.Va. Teams, Venues Allow Fans to Get Close to the Action

By Jake Schaller
Special to The Washington Post
Thursday, April 21, 2005; Page VA39

At MCI Center and RFK Stadium in Washington, and at FedEx Field in Landover, sports fans can watch professional basketball, hockey, football, soccer and baseball.

But there are many other options for those in and around Northern Virginia who enjoy spectator sports.

George Mason men's basketball coach Jim Larranaga celebrates his team's CAA tournament victory over UNC-Wilmington in 2001. George Mason plays home games on campus at its 10,000-seat arena, the Patriot Center. (Mark Gormus -- AP)

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For basketball fans who don't want to go all the way downtown, George Mason University's men's and women's teams offer a nice alternative to Georgetown Hoyas or Washington Wizards games at MCI Center.

George Mason competes in the Colonial Athletic Association, and plays its home games at the 10,000-seat Patriot Center, on the school's campus in Fairfax. Last month, the CAA women's basketball championship was held at the Patriot Center for the first time.

"It is very inexpensive, it's not as far as people think, and all the seats are good," said Keith Adams, the boys' basketball coach at Springbrook High in Montgomery County. "You can go to dinner or lunch, then watch the game and be home."

George Mason also offers top-quality men's and women's soccer teams at its stadium on campus.

There is pro baseball in nearby Woodbridge, and though it's Class A minor league ball, it comes at a fraction of the price the big leaguers demand. At G. Richard Pfitzner Stadium, the Potomac Nationals, formerly the Cannons, play from mid-April until early September in an atmosphere reminiscent of the Kevin Costner movie "Bull Durham."

Tickets are $7 to $11, with discounts for children and senior citizens, and "the Pfitz" will get you closer to pro baseball than anywhere else in the area.

Those in attendance -- especially those who sit up close -- will feel like they are right on top of the action. The crack of the bats, and even conversations between players and managers, fill the air.

A bonus of Potomac games this season is the team's change in affiliation. Last season, as the Cannons, Potomac was an affiliate of the Cincinnati Reds. Now, as an affiliate of the Nationals, Washington fans are able to get a first look at the club's prospects -- just as Orioles fans can with the Bowie Baysox and Frederick Keys.

"It's really, really an exciting time for us in the office and for our fans and people who have been following the team for years," Potomac General Manager Jay Richardson said. "We're going to have someone playing here that a year or two down the road will be playing at RFK."

There are also four Clark C. Griffith Collegiate Baseball League teams in Northern Virginia -- the Herndon Braves, the Reston Hawks, the Vienna Senators and the Fauquier Gators.

The Braves play at Herndon High School, the Hawks play at South Lakes High School, the Senators play at Paul VI Catholic High School and the Gators play at Fauquier High.

And there is plenty of good high school basketball in the area, with games at South Lakes and Herndon high schools almost always packed and full of atmosphere. Bishop Ireton High in Alexandria, O'Connell in Arlington and Paul VI Catholic in Fairfax play in the Washington Catholic Athletic Conference -- home of the legendary program DeMatha and arguably the best high school basketball league in the country.

On the high school level in the spring there are few places better than Madison to watch a baseball game.

The field is manicured and lined to perfection, the smell of freshly grilled hamburgers and hot dogs wafts through the air, and the action on the field features a program that is perennially one of the best in the area.

Friday night football games under the lights in the fall are a tradition throughout the country, and Northern Virginia boasts some of the best in the entire metropolitan area.

In recent years, Westfield, Robinson and Oakton have played to big crowds.

Still, the rivalry that should not be missed -- no matter the teams' records -- is the yearly game between Chantilly and Centreville, known as The Sully Bowl.

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