The Washington PostDemocracy Dies in Darkness

Park View gets support from actress and graduate Hilarie Burton after varsity football cancellation

Hilarie Burton, middle, an actress and Sterling native, pledged she would personally pay for any interested Park View students to attend football camp next spring. (Beryl Ayn Young)
Placeholder while article actions load

Hilarie Burton drove down Route 7 in Loudoun County last Friday, took a turn onto Sterling Boulevard and walked through the doors of Park View High with her two children in tow. A flood of emotions rushed back.

The actress and Park View graduate had returned to the community where she grew up a few weeks after hearing her alma mater was forced to cancel its varsity football season because of a lack of participation.

Park View football cancels varsity season, citing low participation

Burton, best known for her role as Peyton Sawyer on “One Tree Hill,” and a former host on “Total Request Live,” hadn’t been back to Loudoun County in a while. But the timelessness of the school, the flowering plants, the well-kept lawns and the picturesque homes all struck a chord with the Sterling Park native.

She was back and wanted to help.

“The high schoolers are the ones that put on performances and play sports and entertain the whole community,” Burton said. “The high schoolers are the ones doing service projects. They are the leaders of the community, and I wanted to inspire them.”

Burton will pay for any interested Park View student to attend football camp next spring. Additionally, she has filed paperwork with other alumni to form a nonprofit called Project Patriot, a group for Park View and other schools in the area to focus on extracurricular activities.

“The biggest message she wanted the kids to hear is they had not been forgotten,” Park View Principal Kirk Dolson said. “Just because there is no varsity football this year, it doesn’t mean the alumni aren’t proud of Park View High School.

“I am 100 percent confident that as long as we maintain this momentum that we will field a varsity team next year.”

Last Friday, Burton, who graduated from Park View in 2000, spent all day at the school. As a former student body president, captain of the cheerleading team and homecoming queen, Burton attended a Park View pep rally and interacted with students.

“I asked the kids, ‘Y’all want to play football?’ ” Burton said. “And they were like, ‘Yeah, we want to play football.’ But guess what? Some of them have to watch their younger siblings, some of them have to work, you know? There are issues with parking; they have to pay to park for school, so if you can’t get a ride home from practice and there isn’t a way to get home, there is a lot of issues.”

Burton said she understands the concerns and difficulties surrounding the lack of participation for the football program. She wants to ease the financial burden for students who want to participate in sports and other extracurricular activities. She sees this time as an opportunity for her and other alumni to make Park View stronger.

“I’ve got about 4,000 emails, which means 4,000 opinions about what has gone on, whose fault it is, what the crux of the problem is. And you know, from where I sit, from someone who has been out of the area for a while, I think it is a really manageable situation,” Burton said. “I think there is so much potential here for us to do some great stuff for the kids at Sterling Park and involve kids all over Loudoun.”

Burton’s connection to Park View dates back to when her mother was part of the first graduating class there. Burton’s first play, which then sparked her interest in performance, was on Park View’s stage as a third-grader, when she played Gretl von Trapp in “The Sound of Music.”

“Many kids were literally — they stopped in their tracks when they saw her,” Dolson said. “Some girls started crying. She was just great. She would stop and say: ‘What is your name? What activities do you take part in?’ She even took selfies with them. She is a huge inspiration for the kids and made it so real, which is what I appreciated so much.”

On Tuesday, Park View won its first junior varsity football home game of the season, 32-13, over Justice.

“It really gave the students and coaching staff kind of that boost of energy to show that all of their hard work is paying off,” Dolson said. “It was the best thing to happen for us at this stage in our football program.”

Park View was one of three local schools to cancel its varsity football program this season in addition to Manassas Park and Bladensburg. Park View had only 18 players report for tryouts, and Patriots juniors and seniors were eligible to transfer to neighboring Dominion High. The Virginia High School League waived transfer restrictions. In the past decade, high school football enrollment dropped 6.6 percent, according to the National Federation of State High School Associations.

Read more high school football coverage:

When it comes to writing a high school football playbook, many coaches aim for simplicity

A year after losing its team, this Maryland high school is bringing football back

To build a winner, this D.C. coach searched the hallways: ‘Hey, you want to play football?’