The best places to live are always the places where the school is the focal point of the community. Chester and Thomas Dale High School are a perfect example of this. I grew up in Salem, Va., where Andrew Lewis High School certainly served this function. I was fortunate enough to spend my career teaching and coaching at Matoaca Middle and Matoaca High schools where, again, the school played a tremendous role in bonding the community together.
For the last decade or so, the Matoaca schools hit a bump in the road. With the building of a new high school facility and through the redistricting that followed, division seemed to replace unity in our schools. When the bell rang to end the day, students headed off in opposite directions; Warrior Pride was a catch-phrase that wasn’t always ringing true.
Although athletics has always had adhesive qualities, students were often staking out their own territories, claiming various sports teams and other extracurricular activities as their own.
Becoming a melting pot was certainly something that was not going to be instantaneous, as kids with backgrounds a world apart (if only 10 miles) were thrown together. The brand new, state-of-the-art facility did provide the balm that would not be present two years later when students were moved from Salem Middle to Matoaca Middle.
Progress has been made. Time has healing qualities and over time students began to identify with their new school. I credit two men, however, with finally bringing these school communities together. Steve Cunningham is the principal at Matoaca High and John Murray serves as an AA at Matoaca Middle.
They have brought their love of sports and love for kids to work each and every day. Their “nothing’s impossible” attitudes have allowed success to become the norm. Over the last 12 months, Matoaca High School has earned district titles in golf, cross country, volleyball, baseball and soccer. Softball and field hockey teams have experienced unprecedented success as they chase down Thomas Dale for district supremacy. Athletes are showing up to games to support their fellow students. Football stars actually showed their support by attending the district golf tournament. An entire section at a key volleyball match was inhabited by athletes from various other sports. At the middle school level, Matoaca took the Chesterfield County basketball championship this month. With loyal fans of all shapes, sizes, ethnicities and economic standing packing the gym at Manchester High School, the Warriors captured their first county championship since 1978.
Cheering a team to victory is certainly the stuff that builds spirit and results in the evolution of a truly great school.
Sending kids on to greatness, as we have since 1964, makes me extremely proud. After nearly 10 years of divided student bodies and, in the case of the middle school, the geographic division of two campuses, we are finally melding. During this school year, I join all my fellow Warriors in exclaiming, “Matoaca is one school, our school.”