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Road Trip: Virginia

Posted: Wednesday May 30, 2007 10:12AM; Updated: Friday June 1, 2007 1:55PM
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By Joe Lemire

Virginia is the perfect college -- any alum will be happy to tell you so. Few schools produce graduates as proud of their school as UVA does. Combining a great education, a great campus (known locally as the Grounds), a great social life and mostly great sports (more on this later), Virginia retains all the appeal of a major state university while remaining small enough to feel like a close-knit school community.

Every Virginia student should enjoy a football game at Scott Stadium. The only question is whether to dress up or dress down.
Every Virginia student should enjoy a football game at Scott Stadium. The only question is whether to dress up or dress down.
Simon Bruty/SI
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And Charlottesville is the near-perfect college town, surrounded by rolling hills and beautiful countryside yet maintaining all the necessary college amenities (restaurants, bars and Wal-Mart) as well as an independent city life and arts scene for those not affiliated with the university.

If there were a knock on Virginia, however, it's that UVA is not a true sports school, despite its mostly great sports. The football team struggles to consistently stay in the Top 25 and the men's basketball team, save this past season, has been an Atlantic Coast Conference also-ran for most of the decade -- that's the "mostly." The "great" is the annually first-rate lacrosse, soccer and swimming teams and recently in baseball, rowing and tennis. Still, Virginia students and fans seem to lack that sports-is-life mentality.

That said, a sports weekend in Charlottesville will be among the best road trips you take.

Best place to spend a spring Saturday afternoon

The top row of Klöckner Stadium. Also home to Virginia's perennial powerhouse soccer teams, Klöckner hosts the Cavaliers' top-rated lacrosse teams, who in the last decade have won three national titles (the men in 1999 and 2003 and 2006, the women in 2004). And when there's a pause in the action at Klöckner, from the top row you can turn around and look into the action at Davenport Field, where this week Virginia baseball will be hosting an NCAA tournament first-round regional for the third time in the last four years.

Most contentious school-wide debate

The dress code at Scott Stadium. For as long as anyone can remember, Virginia students have dressed up for football games -- guys in shirts and ties, girls in sundresses. Then alumnus Al Groh took over the football program and, in an effort to improve the atmosphere at games, asked students to shed the preppy attire in favor of the "Sea of Orange," as he called it, though I prefer the "Orange Grohve." With the Cavaliers still unable to break into the upper echelon of college football, interest in wearing orange T-shirts has waned, leaving students unclear what to wear. My suggestion? Keep the traditional wear -- especially the sundresses -- for the generally less important non-conference games but wear orange for ACC opponents.

Best student tailgate

The Lawn. UVA enjoys the curious creation of the Lawn, which would be known as the main quad anywhere else, only this one was designed by our third president, Thomas Jefferson, and is lined by 54 student rooms with still-functioning fire places (though no indoor plumbing) that date back to the 1820s. The perfect central gathering spot on Grounds, the Lawn is the place to be before football games as nearly every Lawn resident has his or her own tailgate, which all eventually merge into one big outdoor party.

Best origin of a nickname

How Virginia became the Wahoos. Though formally known as the Cavaliers, UVA maintains the popular alternate nickname of the Wahoos. Official school publications will tell you otherwise, but the story generally accepted among students is that it was originally intended as a derisive taunt -- after all, a wahoo is a fish that can drink twice its weight. Instead, Virginia students took the jeer as a compliment and adopted it.

Best almost sports-like event of the year

The Foxfield Races. Yes, it is a steeplechase horse race but, no, most attendees don't have any idea when or even if there are actually horses racing. Held the last Saturday in April at a track just outside of Charlottesville, Foxfield annually draws several thousand students -- mostly from UVA but many in-state colleges bus in students -- for a thoroughly debaucherous affair. Most Greek organizations and other student groups rent plots on the vast infield, and the end result is the biggest party of the year (not to mention the biggest party of the year that starts before noon).

Best indigenous sport

Streaking. Virginia doesn't claim to have invented the time-honored college tradition, but it's been taken to the next level, with students regularly sprinting down the Lawn to a statue of Homer -- too bad he's blind -- and back again. What makes the adventure perilous is the length of the Lawn (740 feet), the rolling terrain (there are four small slopes) and the prevalence of ropes guarding the different tiers, turning the streak into a long-distance hurdle race -- all done while you're naked. (Oh, and have someone guard your clothes. Pranksters sometimes steal them.)

Best college basketball arena anywhere

No, it doesn't have the tradition or history or student section of the truly great basketball schools, but the sparkling $129.8 million John Paul Jones Arena -- named after the main donor's father, not the Revolutionary War hero or the Led Zeppelin bassist -- might be the nicest. It has everything from a state-of-the-art audio-visual system to great concerts (Dave Matthews, Red Hot Chili Peppers, Brad Paisley, Eric Clapton, Justin Timberlake and many more in just its first year) to an athlete dining hall to plentiful concessions to, yes, private showers in the offices of the head basketball coaches. That would have been more useful if the Sweatiest Man on Earth, Pete Gillen, was still coaching the Cavaliers.

Best nightlife (non-fraternity division)

The Corner. A strip of more than a dozen college bars and restaurants within walking distance of most apartments and dorms (sorry, Hereford), the Corner is busy every night of the week. The Biltmore is a former winner of Playboy's college bar of the month, and other great options include the Virginian, O'Neill's and Jaberwoke.

Best nightlife (non-bar division)

Rugby Road. The red-brick, white-column fraternity houses on Rugby Road (and parallel Madison Lane) are a mainstay of the Virginia nightlife. Outwardly reminiscent of Animal House, inwardly they're, well, reminiscent of Animal House -- or at least can be on the craziest nights.

Best nightlife (non-undergrad division)

The Downtown Mall. For graduate students, for city residents and for undergrads looking to avoid the usual scene is the Downtown Mall, a pedestrian mall about a mile from Grounds, featuring a movie theater, skating rink and a few dozen upscale (read: non-college) restaurants, many of which have outdoor seating. And don't miss Miller's, which often has live jazz music but is most famous for being the bar Dave Matthews tended before his music career took off.

Best late-night food

The White Spot. It's the home of the legendary Gus Burger -- a cheeseburger topped with fried egg -- which has magical powers of absorbency at the end of a long night on the Corner. Second place goes to Little John's, a New York-style deli and the Corner's only 24-hour restaurant, which offers the best sandwiches in town.

Best use of an SIOC article to make a personal plea:

Sean Singletary, please don't go pro. Please.

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