By Liam Griffin and Kim Howard, CAE
Prince William is located in a sports utopia. Six professional teams call the Washington, D.C. metro area home. If you can’t find a sport in this area, it may not exist. Northern Virginia is dominated by competition: year-round athletes, academic wizards, musical prodigies. Prince William County and the cities located within it are where many Olympians and professional athletes grew up. These are the kids next door who went on to national or global fame.
These athletes did not come from places of extreme privilege, and they don’t have an athletic pedigree. Instead, these athletes found success through something that is hard to describe, hard to learn, and impossible to teach. Some of their talent was innate, some of it was developed, but they all had the grit to succeed.
Soccer’s Superstar Ali Krieger
Forest Park alumna Ali Krieger is one of the best women’s soccer players in the world. She’s an Olympian and World Cup champion. For Krieger, big stages are nothing new. As a high school soccer player, she accumulated incredible accolades. After achieving All-Virginia honors multiple times, her high school
career ended after receiving Player of the Year awards from Gatorade and the Washington Post.
After high school, Krieger’s stock continued to soar. She continued her athletic and academic endeavors at Penn State University, where she quickly established herself as a professional prospect and valued member of the team. After college, Krieger would join the professional ranks of the German FrauenBundesliga before also representing her country as a member of the U.S. Women’s National Soccer Team. In addition to her time in the Women’s Bundesliga, Krieger has also spent time among
the highest soccer divisions in Sweden and the United States.
As a longtime member of the U.S. National Team, Krieger has played on the largest stage that the sport has to offer. She played in two Women’s World Cups, including the United States’ World Cup Championship in 2015, which she cites as one of her proudest accomplishments. The next year, Krieger joined the greatest athletes in the world at the 2016 Rio Olympics. While the U.S. Women’s team was eliminated from the Olympic tournament quickly, the experience of being an Olympian is a remarkable achievement.
Despite all these achievements, the soccer star is as humble as they come, and never runs out of complimentary statements about her teammates, coaches and opponents. When asked about her time growing up in Prince William, she credited her success as an athlete to those she played with and against. “Growing up with such great players around me, some of whom were better than I was…that helped me succeed and get better,” she said.
Even as she travels and competes around the world, Prince William stays near to Krieger’s heart. As a product of Prince William County Public Schools, and the daughter of educators, Krieger had some sage advice for young local athletes who are looking to follow in her footsteps. “In the term student-athlete,
the word ‘student’ comes before the word ‘athlete’, so make sure you’re focusing on school,” Krieger said. “Education is so important.”
After participating in two World Cups, the 2016 Olympic games, three NCAA tournaments, and 10 years of playing professional soccer, it would be easy for a player of her caliber to forget about her hometown, instead spending her days trotting around the globe. But this year, a sports complex in the southeastern portion of the county will finish being built and the county government will dedicate it to Krieger. Krieger plans on hosting training workshops and clinics for youth soccer players in the area.
Manassas Son Lucky Whitehead Fulfills a Football Dream
Lucky Whitehead, though not an Olympian, is an extremely accomplished athlete who has overcome difficulties in his quest to play in the National Football League (NFL). A product of the Manassas area, Whitehead is a model of resilience, and proof that with hard work, anything is possible.
“Growing up in Manassas was fun for me because I was always involved in sports, and I stayed active, whether this was in a uniform or just being outside with my friends,” he said. “I was always trying to stay busy. But it was still hard with a single parent, Karen Morris, who did everything to keep a roof over
our heads. Her strength and His (the Lord) are why I am the man I am today. I made a lot of lifelong friends growing up in Manassas, and I still have those friends. Also, my family was always around and supportive of me, which is important.”
His quest for NFL glory began at Osbourn High School (OHS), where Whitehead established himself as a force to be reckoned with on both sides of the football. Playing at both cornerback and wide receiver, his speed and dynamic play-making ability earned him All-Conference honors in his final year. Whitehead
took his talents to Dean College, a Division III school in Massachusetts.
“In high school I realized that I could possibly make it in professional sports because I was a very good athlete. I played a lot of sports in high school and learned a lot of skills that have shaped me into a better athlete. I knew that I had to give it my all throughout high school in order to get to the next level and
that’s what I did,” he said.
After finding success at Dean College, Whitehead transferred to Florida Atlantic University, a Division I school that would allow him a better chance to play at the NFL level. In his final year of collegiate eligibility, Whitehead’s speed, elusiveness, and versatility caught the eye of NFL scouts. He established himself as a reliable kick and punt returner, a solid deep-threat as a wide receiver, and a change of pace when placed in the backfield. The Dallas Cowboys signed him as a free agent not long after the draft. The Cowboys were looking to bring him on as a return specialist, and he earned a spot on the team. By the end of his rookie season, Whitehead was the starting punt and kickoff returner for one of the NFL’s most popular franchises. In July 2017, after two seasons playing for the Cowboys, Whitehead moved on to the New York Jets.
“I’d hope that my hometown remembers me as someone who followed his dreams and never gave up. In a small town it’s easy to get stuck and hang with the wrong people. I am glad that I was always pushing forward and trying my best to not get comfortable. I think that people will remember me for my success and the vision I’ve provided for the youth of my town and also for my outgoing personality,” Whitehead said.
Whitehead hosts and attends a youth football camp every summer at OHS. Despite his status as a pro athlete, he is still active in the Manassas community and fondly recalls those mentors who believed in him and pushed him to succeed. “Coach Mike Johnson was my favorite coach/mentor/guardian. He never let me settle and was always pushing me because he sees my full potential even when I might not see it myself. He still stays on my back to make sure I am making good choices and staying out of trouble. He is always going to do that to make sure my mind is in the right place. I can’t forget Athletic Director
Ira DeGrood either. I can count on him sending text after text checking on me, but he always saw the best in me growing up at OHS. And finally, former Assistant Principal and OHS Basketball Coach Mike Dufrene who also encouraged me to get involved in peer mentoring,” he said.
Whitehead tells aspiring athletes to never let anyone bring you down: “Follow your dreams and never give up. I’ve had a lot of people try to bring me down and tell me that I’m not good enough, I’ll never make it, I’m too small…whatever the case may be, but I didn’t let that bring me down. If you want something, go get it, and don’t let anyone take that away from you. Also work hard, all the time. Stay out of trouble and focus on your goals if you want to succeed.”
Skateboarder Ben Hatchell Grinds to X Games Success
While his sport isn’t a particularly common sight, Ben Hatchell, a Manassas native, has achieved success in his athletic pursuits. Hatchell is a skateboarder who has competed professionally in dozens of competitions, including multiple X Games.
Hatchell has competed internationally on a variety of occasions, including eight X Games competitions. In those eight events, he has reached the podium five times, including a gold medal in 2007. As he travels the world to compete, Hatchell keeps his hometown close to his heart. Even as he travelled to China this
fall, he lists Manassas as his favorite place to travel to.
Initially, the skateboarder couldn’t have fathomed what the sport would do for him. Hatchell started skateboarding as a child, he said, “because the neighborhood kids were doing it.” What started as a simple hobby has allowed him to travel the world and compete with the best in his sport. Hatchell is travelling the world as a proud product of Manassas.
Track Star Benita Fitzgerald Mosley Brings Home the Olympic Gold
Benita Fitzgerald Mosley is a pillar of the area, and undoubtedly one of the area’s most famous daughters. After her mother Fannie Fitzgerald made a name for herself as a teacher by helping to
desegregate Prince William County Schools, Fitzgerald Mosley made her mark on the world as an Olympic athlete. But before the global fame, she was just your average cul-de-sac kid.
“What I remember most about growing up in Dale City was the idyllic nature of the community. Everything was new at that time. Most of the families were young parents with children my age. We spent a lot of time outside playing and doing what kids used to do—running in the woods, walking by the creek and riding our bikes. My community was completely integrated, and it didn’t dawn on us in the late ’60s that this wasn’t the norm,” said Fitzgerald Mosley.
As a middle schooler, she struggled as a gymnast. Her junior high school coach, Gwen Washington, suggested she try the track team because she was so fast in P.E. class. After winning her first race, Fitzgerald Mosley never looked back. Many athletes credit success in their sport with helping them find success in their personal and professional lives, and Fitzgerald Mosely is a shining example of the positive impact that sports can have on young people. She currently serves as the chief executive officer of
Laureus USA. “I call my gold medal the gift that keeps on giving, so I hope I’m remembered as someone who worked hard to give that same gift to youth, women, people of color, etc., to help them fulfill gold medals in their own lives,” she said.
Fitzgerald Mosely attended Gar-Field High School, where she quickly stamped her name across several record books. As a sophomore, she raced past her older competition to claim her first state title in the 110-yard hurdle event. She would add two more championships in the event, in addition to several
other records before graduating. Upon graduation from high school, Fitzgerald Mosely earned a full athletic scholarship to attend the University of Tennessee. At Tennessee, she was named an All-American a stunning 15 times and won four NCAA Championships. Athletic success would continue to accompany her as she competed collegiately, but her academic success is not to be forgotten. On the track, she sped past the competition time and time again. In the classroom, she put her nose to
the grindstone and earned a bachelor’s degree in industrial engineering.
But it was her freshman high school coach, Ann Lockett, who planted the Olympian dream in Fitzgerald’s mind. “My freshman year, Ann Lockett was the head track coach at Gar-Field. She coached three AAA state championships for girls’ track, one or two for girls’ basketball and one in gymnastics. One of my
track teammates, Paula Girven, was coached by Ms. Lockett as well, and she went on to compete in the high jump at the 1976 Olympics in Montreal. During the Montreal Games, Coach Lockett told me, “You can be on the 1980 Olympic team!” She planted the seed of possibility in my mind. She soon left
Gar-Field to become assistant principal at Potomac and has since retired, and Ruthie Brown became our coach after Ann moved on. Ruthie put her heart and soul into coaching us and did whatever she could to nurture my talent. My dad, Rodger Fitzgerald, was a guidance counselor at my school at the time and instilled in me the power of positive thinking. Four years after, I was on the 1980 Olympic Team, which unfortunately boycotted the Moscow Games, and then four years later, I won a gold medal in the 100m hurdles at the 1984 Olympic Games in Los Angeles. My parents didn’t hesitate and always supported
my dreams; they were very open to the possibilities,” she said. Positive coaching does matter, indeed.
Fitzgerald Mosely’s advice to young athletes is sage. “Run your own race: find out what you are good at and passionate about; work hard to create opportunities and chart your own path. Consider others’ advice, but follow your heart to find where you will provide the most value,” she said.
Successful Athletes Remain Humble
These alumni of Prince William are world-class athletes. They reached the peak of their sports and were recognized on a global stage. Despite the success and recognition, they never lost their humility, and they kept Prince William in mind. The people of Prince William are proud of these athletes and have honored
them in a variety of ways.
Children involved in sports often dream of reaching the highest level of their sport, and with hard work and determination, anything is possible. As long as young people are encouraged to follow their dreams by coaches and family, residents of Prince William will see athletes from the area continue to succeed into
Prince William Olympians
- Paula Girven (Gar-Field, 1976), High Jump, 1976 Olympic and 1980 teams (U.S.A. boycotted the Moscow Olympics in 1980)
- Kim Graham (Stonewall Jackson, 1989), 400 meters, 1,600-meter relay team, won an Olympic gold medal in 1996
- Ali Krieger (Forest Park, 2003), Women’s Soccer, 2016 Olympic team
- Benita Fitzgerald Mosely (Gar-Field, 1979) 100 meter hurdles, 1980 and 1984 Olypmic teams, won an Olympic gold medal in 1984
- David Robinson (Osbourn Park, 1983), Men’s Basketball, won a bronze medal in 1988 and gold medals in 1992 and 1996
- Matt Smith (Woodbridge, 1996), Rowing, 2004 Olympic team (lightweight four)
- Amy Ton (Hylton 1995), Judo, 2000 Olympic team
- Sheena Johnson Tosta (Gar-Field, 2000) 400-Meter Hurdles, 2004 and 2008 Olympic teams, won a a silver medal in 2008.
Liam Griffin is a freelance sports writer.
Kim Howard, CAE ([email protected]) is the editor in chief of Prince William Living. She loves to watch the Olympics; learned all about football under the Friday night lights watching her mutli-state-championship Enterprise Wildcats High School football team and treasures her time spent watching her high school senior play basketball. More details about her and her publishing and communications consulting business can be found at writecommunicationsllc.com.