The Lafayette High athletic tradition of excellence began immediately when the school opened in 1973, with future Dallas Cowboys running back Ron Springs and company reaching the Group AAA state championship game. Lawrence Taylor made his debut in a Lafayette football uniform two years later, going on to revolutionize the NFL linebacking position, and was followed to Rams football stardom by eventual seven-time All-Pro kick returner Mel Gray.
Seneca Lassiter dominated area distance running for the Rams in the 1990s before becoming a world-class miler. The first decade of the new millennium featured Lafayette's first state football championship and a dozen of other state titles — eight combined in boys and girls swimming.
So school athletic director Dan Barner, who points out that Lafayette has won the Bay Rivers District all-sports trophy in 10 of the past 17 years, hesitates to name any one year as better than any other athletically. Yet when he looks back at 2013-14, he admits he's hard-pressed to recall another in which the Rams' individual or team accomplishments were so varied.
It's that variety of excellence, unmatched in the Peninsula area, that has earned Lafayette the designation of Daily Press Program of the Year.
"It was a great year for all of the athletes and coaches, but not just them," Barner said. "We finished first in the Wells Fargo Cup as the top school in Virginia High School League academic competitions.
"On top of that, we're going to win the VHSL sportsmanship award. It all started with football.
"In America, football is the sport people rally around. It started the school year off in a positive manner."
And then some. The Rams rolled through their first 12 games unbeaten, outscoring the opposition by an average of 48-8.
Running back Jahlil Green ran for 2,055 yards and 34 touchdowns, memorably committing to play for William and Mary during a playoff victory. Linebacker Schekel Wallace, the Daily Press Defensive Player of the Year, distinguished himself as a capable running back (925 yards) and fierce tackler.
The Rams spent much of the season as the No. 1-ranked team in state Group 3A before falling to perennial state power James Monroe in overtime of the state playoff quarterfinals. Even as he felt the disappointment of the loss, Rams coach Andy Linn said, "You walk out of here 12-1, I'm not going to complain."
Led by all-state middle hitter Kiersten Langerud, who often converted more than 40 percent of her kills, the Lafayette volleyball team made a surprise run to the 3A state semifinals. But the most impressive run of the fall was made by, well, the runners.
The Rams' cross country team had been knocking on the door of a state title for years. They busted that door down in 2013, getting strong performances at the 3A state meet from the entire top seven: Jason Menzies (third), Andrew Loper (ninth), Konrad Steck (11th), Cade Moreno (24th), James Hart (25th), Derek Holdsworth (32nd) and Gage Moreno (48th).
"I was overcome with joy that we'd pulled it off," Loper said. "We talked about doing it, but when we finally did, I was shocked and felt an overwhelming feeling of happiness."
It was the kind of joy Holdsworth would feel many more times during 2013-14, as he won 3A indoor state titles at 300 and 500 meters. His biggest accomplishment, among the biggest by any athlete in the area this year, was edging Kenneth Hagen for the New Balance Nationals 800-meter title in New York City in a stirring see-saw duel.
"I knew we were evenly matched and neither of us was going to let go until one of us won," said Holdsworth, who ran 1 minute, 51.72 seconds in edging Hagen in the final meters.
Lafayette's boys finished with the most swimming points in the state meet for the second consecutive season, only to take second, again, because Hidden Valley of Roanoke passed them with points in the lightly contested diving event. The Lafayette swimmers felt that scoring diving is something of a farce because few state 3A schools, including theirs, have access to a diving pool.
So the Rams, who won a relay and got an individual title from Carter Kale in the 500, wear T-shirts proclaiming they are the No. 1 swim team in the state. The Rams' girls did nicely, too, finishing third.
Guided by new coach Chris Brown, the Rams' girls basketball team had its best season in many years. His daughter, Keyana Brown, the Old Dominion University-bound Daily Press Player of the Year, led the Rams to the Conference 25 championship.
The beat continued in the spring. The baseball team tied for the Bay Rivers crown for the first time in nine years, while the girls tennis team, paced by singles No. 1 Libby Bland, reached the state semis for the first time in school history.
Lafayette's boys soccer team did well to reach the 3A East Region semis, but the most notable feats for the school in that sport were individual. Reeves Trott led three Lafayette players onto the all-state team with a Peninsula-area-leading 33 goals, while Carson Pokorny was the top girls scorer on the Peninsula with 31 goals.
The track teams again were successful in the spring. The girls finished second in the state and the boys were third, reversing their finishes at the state indoor meet.
Deborah Allison won the state 100 hurdles, adding to the 55 hurdles state title she won indoors. Kathryn Tomczak won the state outdoor title in the pole vault, just as she'd done indoors, while Megan Jones won the state outdoor long jump.
Not surprisingly, Holdsworth capped it all off by winning the state outdoor 800 and leading the Rams to victory in the 3,200-meter relay. Then he broke legendary Lassiter's school record by running the 800 in 1:49.36 in a national invitational.
"It was a great year, to say the least," Barner said. "You can't do it unless you have a lot of great coaches and kids."
O'Brien can be reached by phone at 757-247-4963.