Third in a series

There's no question Dominion junior Lauren Ritter is most comfortable in a swimming pool. The two-time defending Virginia AA 500-meter freestyle champion moves through the water with grace and ease.

But that doesn't mean Ritter hasn't found a niche elsewhere.

The entire Titans athletic department -- beginning with Athletic Director Joe Fleming -- has dedicated itself to serving the community that has been so supportive through the trials of its first few years.

"We expect every student athlete to give back to the community because the community gives them so much," Fleming said. "It's expected. It's required. That's true. But it turns out to be so much more. You don't have to push the kids, you honestly don't."

Ritter and the rest of the swim team, for example, delivered holiday packages to the residents at Falcon's Landing, a retirement community for Air Force officers, to thank them for the use of their pool for practices. Other winter sports teams rang bells for the Salvation Army. The Titans cross-country teams cleaned up local streets, bringing back trophies -- including a tire and an old shoe -- to show off to Fleming.

"I think, even if the coaches didn't come up with stuff, that we'd make something up to do ourselves," Ritter said. "It's important to give back. Plus, you just feel better because you've done something that wasn't for yourself."

Dominion's basketball players volunteered to help at a local youth tournament. Several teams offered free clinics -- including boys' basketball, football, boys' and girls' soccer, volleyball and wrestling -- to community youth. Athletes from various teams also volunteered to work with the Special Olympics, and the athletic department as a whole collected cleats and uniforms to send to Latin America for needy athletes.

"We point our kids toward things they can do," boys' basketball coach Doug Fulton said. "But they really jump into it, and it just grows upon itself."

Coaches at the Sterling school are required to come up with a service project at the beginning of each season to present to Fleming in compliance with the school's mission statement. Any student who totals 100 hours of community service earns a separate varsity letter to honor that achievement.

"I think I always had the intention to be active in the community; it's just received so well here," football coach Mike Dougherty said. "It fits here. And the kids really get something out of it. I had so many kids volunteer for our free clinic that I had to send some of them away."

The community service comes in addition to working to build successful programs in the AA Dulles District. The Titans, entering their third season in the district, have not won a district title in any team sport but boast Ritter and Virginia AA girls' golf champion Sara Hurwitch as examples of the direction in which they believe their programs are headed.

"The Dulles District is exceptionally competitive," Fleming said. "We've been there two years now, and we've seen our student athletes mature physically and mentally. We've seen their self-confidence grow. What I'm most proud of is that out of 1,000 students last year, [athletic administrative assistant] Cheryl Bowman got 600 to fill out paperwork to participate in sports. That's 60 percent of our student body. So the numbers are there, and our coaches have put in endless hours. It's constant.

"And because of that hard work and dedication and the relationship that our coaches have developed with our student athletes, we know we have everything in place to move us to the next level."

Tony Armenteros, foreground, and Chatman Young are two of the many Dominion High athletes who do some heavy lifting in the community through various volunteer programs.