After Peninsula's long run, Lynchburg to host VHSCA games, clinic

It had been stationary since 1993, before any of this year's participants were born. In our corner of the commonwealth, with the beaches and amusement parks nearby, the Virginia High School Coaches Association's All-Star week called the Peninsula its home for 21 years.

But sometimes, even monopolies don't last. In a one-sided vote last summer, the VHSCA voted to move its games and clinic to Lynchburg — a.k.a., "The Hill City." With Liberty University and its excellent facilities on board, membership felt it was time for a change.

"They wanted it there, and I'm in full support of them," said VHSCA executive director and Hampton football coach Mike Smith. "We'll do our best to make it work. It's going to be a totally different experience than the last time we were there. They've done wonders with their facilities, and it's going to be like an Olympic village there."

Yes, things have changed in Lynchburg — and at Liberty — since the All-Star games left in 1992. Back then, the athletes stayed in various locations throughout the city and the clinic itself was held at Heritage High in Lynchburg.

As for the games, they were also spread out. Football and baseball were played at City Stadium (now 75 years old), with softball at nearby Miller Park. Basketball's home was Liberty University's brand-new Vines Center.

This year, all games will be played at Liberty except boys and girls basketball. The reason for that is an NCAA rule that prohibits Division I institutions from hosting "non-scholastic competitions" in football and basketball.

Liberty will be able to host the football game at Williams Stadium because it is not a Football Bowl Subdivision (formerly I-A) school.

The Flames' facilities are night and day from what they were in 1992. Their new baseball stadium, which was completed last June, has 2,500 chair-back seats, four indoor batting tunnels, an AstroTurf surface, luxury suites and a massive press box.

"It's a first-class, tremendous facility," said Poquoson baseball coach Ken Bennett, whose team played there last month in the Group 3A jamboree. "It's probably one of the best in Virginia as far as what they have and the amenities that go with it.

"We've been on their football field a couple of times (in the postseason), and that's also first-class. And I glanced out of the back of the baseball facility and they're building a softball stadium that looks just like the baseball (stadium)."

Liberty's new softball stadium will be completed in September and ready for next year's game. The current stadium will be used for this year's game.

All along, Flames athletic director Jeff Barber had been saying this would be the perfect setting for the VHSCA. This is not your father's Liberty University.

"We're ready to go," he said. "Everybody has done a great job with the facilities. We think we have high Division I facilities here. The city of Lynchburg obviously has changed a lot over the past 20 years and hosts a lot of events here. And the location of the campus in the central part of the state is a positive.

"The layout of the facilities are very conducive to this type of event. We feel we have an Olympic village type of thing, so you can be in the dorms and then walk to the facilities or walk to the dining hall. You don't have to travel (far) to do what you need to do. It all makes sense."

All athletes will be staying on campus in LU's dormitories. Liberty has 7,500 living on campus during the school year, so space should be no issue. Everything will be within walking distance, and buses will be running through the campus for the lazy.

"We got rave reviews from the student-athletes and parents after the VHSL (jamboree)," Barber said. "Hopefully, (the VHSCA) will feel the same way."

All-Star week had become a staple in Hampton, which is a 45-minute drive (or thereabouts) to Virginia Beach and Busch Gardens. But Lynchburg has the advantage of being more centrally located, which should make things easier for those in the western part of the state.

Plus, it's a college setting, which will be good for those headed that way next month.

"It's real cool," Denbigh linebacker Patrick Prosser said. "We'll get a little bit of a college experience staying in the dorms. And It'll be pretty cool to play on a college field."

Johnson can be reached by phone at 757-247-4649.