Tiny George Mason Stands Tall Among N.Va. Giants

By Preston Williams
Thursday, March 13, 2008

George Mason, the man, was a Founding Father of our country. George Mason, the high school? Stick "con" in front of "founding," and that starts to describe it. But confounding in a good way.

If your school can claim more peculiarities than Mason, a school whose girls' basketball team has earned a trip to tomorrow's state semifinals in Richmond, then by all means let us know.

Here goes:

George Mason is in densely packed Northern Virginia. It is surrounded by schools in the Virginia AAA classification, the state's largest. It is inside the Capital Beltway; the baseball field is 20 feet from Interstate 66 (hence the 120-foot backstop). Yet Mason is a Class A school, the state's smallest classification, with 795 students in grades eight through 12.

The Mustangs play in the six-team Bull Run District, with no nearby rivals. Manassas Park is 22 miles away, although it can feel like three times that when fighting evening westbound traffic on I-66. Clarke County (58 miles), Rappahannock County (64 miles), Strasburg (73 miles) and Madison County (81 miles) -- also westward destinations, in rural areas -- are the other league foes. Mustangs junior forward Kim Kenny said she was surprised the first time she heard country music during warmups out that way.

George Mason is constantly confused with another George M., George Marshall High School. Marshall is 1.3 miles west down Leesburg Pike (Route 7) from Mason and shares a Zip code. George Mason sometimes gets George Marshall's mail but not necessarily its attention if Mason Athletic Director Tom Horn, a 1988 Marshall graduate, is any indication. "The only way that I knew George Mason existed was because we had a kid transfer from Mason to Marshall when I was in high school," he said. Buses, officials and parents have shown up at Marshall when they are supposed to be at Mason.

George Mason also is confused with Falls Church High School, so fans wanting to go to Falls Church High often end up at Mason (Google "falls church virginia high school," and Mason is the first map link you get). Of course, it would stand to reason that Falls Church High School would serve the City of Falls Church, but Falls Church High School is a Fairfax County school, 6.5 miles from Mason. Mason is the high school for the City of Falls Church, even though Mason sits outside city limits.

When people hear "George Mason," they automatically think Fairfax, because that's where George Mason University is. Other than sharing a name -- the high school, established in 1952, had it first, by the way -- there is no relationship between GMHS and GMU.

The list goes on. Of the 96 Virginia A schools, George Mason is one of only two or three to offer lacrosse, according to the Virginia High School League. The school also offers swimming, a sport not available at most schools its size.

Mason is a small school that thinks big -- the Mustangs play AA and AAA schools in several sports -- and presumably should be big. But the town is a mere 2.2 square miles, and there is one school that serves each grade. So the kids who were in kindergarten and first grade at Mount Daniel Elementary later graduate together from Mason.

"It gives me a chance really to live in the city but have the small-school sense," said Bailey Walton, a senior guard on the girls' basketball team.

"I like being the little school that no one's ever heard of and kind of flying underneath the radar," said Kenny, who moved to Falls Church from Ohio when she was a freshman.

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