|Virginia High School League|
|Motto||"Serving youth since 1913"|
|Headquarters||1642 State Farm Blvd.
Charlottesville, VA 22911
|Membership||300+ public high schools|
|Executive Director||Ken Tilley|
|Affiliations||National Federation of State High School Associations|
The Virginia High School League (VHSL) is the arbiter of interscholastic competition among public high schools in the Commonwealth of Virginia. Unlike many similar organizations in other states, it does not count private or religious schools among its membership. Non-public schools belong to other organizations, the largest of which is the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association. Homeschooled students also are not allowed to participate in VHSL sanctioned events. A 2008 proposal in the Virginia General Assembly to allow homeschooled students to compete for their local high school failed to pass. The VHSL was not originally an athletics sanctioning body and continues to sponsor championships in several academic activities.
The VHSL was established in 1913 by members of the Washington and Jefferson Literary Societies of the University of Virginia and originally served as a debating league for the state's high schools. Over the course of the 1910s, it expanded to over 250 schools and added championships in oral reading, baseball, basketball and track and renamed itself the Virginia High School Literary and Athletic League.
After World War II, it adopted other sports and began standardizing officiating practices for high school sports. In 1969, it merged with the Virginia Interscholastic Association, which was a similar organization that had served black schools around the Commonwealth during segregation. Girls' sports were added around this time. Statewide football playoffs began in 1970.
The VHSL is headquartered in Charlottesville and has 308 member schools and conducts championships in 27 different sports. Nearly 200,000 students participate in its activities annually. The VHSL is overseen by an Executive Committee elected from the principals and superintendents of the various Virginia school districts. Day to day affairs are handled by the Executive Director and Assistant Directors.
The VHSL's member schools are organized into three groups based on enrollment: A, AA and AAA. Each of the three groups are split into four geographic regions, which are each split into three or four districts, which have four to eleven teams. The largest group of schools are in Group AAA, the next largest group in Group AA, and the smallest group in Group A. Regional boundaries are different for all three groups as average school sizes vary substantially in different parts of Virginia. Nearly all Group AAA schools are located in Northern Virginia, Hampton Roads, and Greater Richmond. Group A schools are typically found in rural areas and the largest concentration is in Southwest Virginia. Group AA schools are somewhat more widely distributed than the other two and found in rapidly growing areas like Loudoun County, in and around cities such as Roanoke, Lynchburg, Harrisonburg, and Charlottesville, and in smaller cities and counties which have a single high school. Unlike many state associations, districts and regions are fixed and the same for every sport with very few exceptions.
Redistricting and regrouping occurs every two years. AAA schools are typically above 1,500 students, AA schools are typically from 700 to about 1,500 students, and A schools are below 700 students. Schools can however choose to play up a group if they wish. Several schools in the Richmond and Hampton Roads areas elect to play in Group AAA instead of Group AA due to a reluctance to travel long distances. In Southwest Virginia, some schools elect to play up a class in Group AA due to traditionally being part of that group. Schools can be granted a special dispensation from the VHSL to play down in Group A or AA due to being far from the nearest schools in their class and being relatively close to the dividing line (so a school with 800 or 1,600 students might get this dispensation, while a school with 1,000 or 2,000 students would not.) For example Lee County High School, located in the westernmost county in Virginia, has been given a dispensation to play down in Group A.
In football, each region is further split into two divisions based on school size, so statewide champions are determined in Divisions 1 through 6. Divisions 1 and 2 are for Group A with Division 2 being the larger one; 3 and 4, the AA schools; and 5 and 6, the AAA schools. Since the average sizes of schools vary by region, some schools in the lower division of one region could be in the higher division of another region and vice-versa. Most districts contain members in both divisions of its group so a single district can have two state championships teams. The division format was adopted in 1986 for football.
In 2008, the division format was adopted for basketball in Group A, and in 2009 for basketball in Group AA. In many sports other than football, both the regional champion and regional runner-up advance to participate in the state tournament.
Offered for boys and girls: Basketball, Cross Country, Golf, Lacrosse, Gymnastics, Indoor track, Outdoor track, Soccer, Swimming/diving, Tennis, Volleyball,
Offered for boys: Baseball, Football, Wrestling(girls are eligible to wrestle also)
Offered for girls: Cheerleading, Field hockey, Softball
(Boys' and girls' sports will allow members of the opposite gender to participate in some circumstances.)
Academic activities are coed and not considered varsity athletics by most schools. Academic activities are usually awarded different letters and merits from athletics.
The VHSL academic activities season begins in September with a series of journalism education workshops in four cities across the state that is sponsored by Jostens. The VHSL/Jostens Regional Workshops began in 2005 and target both students and advisers of newspaper, magazine and yearbook publications. The 2007 series will include stops in Virginia Beach, Richmond, Roanoke and Dulles.
This event is followed up by what is referred to as the state journalism workshop, or the Championship Journalism Workshop in October, which is both an educational and recognition event. Held at Virginia Commonwealth University since 1989, the CJW celebrates the results of the newspaper, magazine and yearbook evaluations that schools submit each June to the VHSL. The two-day workshop offers about 100 classes that are taught mostly by the state's top advisers, but also by college professors, industry professionals and recognized out-of-state advisers. Since 2005, the awards portion of this event has been held in the nearby historic Jefferson Hotel grand ballroom. State champions in newspaper, magazine and yearbook publications are given an evaluation on their publication known as Trophy Class. Publications that receive five Trophy Class ratings in seven or fewer years are also awarded the Savedge Award for Sustained Excellence, named after renowned yearbook adviser Colonel Charles Savedge. The VHSL also annually awards the Student Journalist of the Year to a deserving senior, which comes with the Savedge scholarship.
The VHSL academic season continues with the Group A and AA One Act Theatre Festivals, traditionally held the first week of December in Charlottesville. Eight schools representing the top two in both district and regional competition, present plays that are 35 or fewer minutes in length. Preferably four, but no fewer than three judges usually consisting of both high school directors and professionals evaluate the performances and recognize both the champion and runner-up school. Also recognized are eight outstanding actors.
In February, the top eight schools that have advanced from regional competition in Groups A, AA and AAA go at the College of William and Mary for Scholastic Bowl competition. Two, four-person teams meet head-to-head in this double-elimination tournament, answering questions in mathematics, science/health, social studies, English and miscellany (including current events, fine arts, music, entertainment and sports). There are three rounds, two toss-up rounds where either team may answer, and one round of directed questioning toward individual schools. Toss-up rounds consist of 15 questions and directed rounds include 10 questions per team. The champion and runner-up are recognized in each grouping.
The state forensics tournament occurs on a single day in late March/early April and consists of ten individual events: duo interpretation, serious dramatic interpretation, humorous dramatic interpretation, storytelling, poetry interpretation, prose interpretation, foreign extemporaneous speaking, domestic extemporaneous speaking, impromptu speaking and original oratory. At this tournament, Group A, AA and AAA competition occur separately, but simultaneously. The top six students in each category and in each group are recognized with the top four earning points toward a team sweepstakes. The team champion and runner-up are also recognized.
Debate is a two-day tournament in April that features four events: Student Congress, Lincoln-Douglas, Contemporary Policy and Classic Policy. This competition has taken place at Liberty University since 1999. Student Congress, added in 2004, is the newest VHSL debate event. The top four individuals (or two-person policy teams) earn points toward a team sweepstakes. The team champion and runner-up are also recognized.
The VHSL academic activities season culminates with the judging of creative writing entries announced in mid-late May. In March, schools submit a folder containing six works (2 poems, 2 short stories, 2 essays) written by six different students. These school folders have traditionally been evaluated by judges at the University of Virginia's creative writing department. Judges award individual awards for the three categories in each group (A, AA and AAA) as well as an overall school folder winner in each group.
The VHSL also awards the Wachovia Cup for each group to the schools which accumulate the most points across all competitions much like the NACDA Director's Cup for college athletics. There are separate cups for athletic and academic activities.