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Country Day at Nationals Park

Nationals fans enjoyed a pre-game country themed party before the game against the Braves, with live music from country singer Shane Gamble, a mechanical bull and tons of ballpark snacks. Fans enjoyed plenty of ice cold Bud and Bud Light. Photos: Kayla Marsh

Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Freedman
Photo: Courtesy of Rachel Freedman

Rowing In The DMV

Autumn in the District is perhaps the most stunning season in our city, conjuring up vivid images of fall foliage and breathaking views of the Potomac River. But there is nothing quite like being out on the water, gliding past sightseers, with the singular sound of four oars pulling in complete unison as your sole focus. Whether you’re in search of a new sport or just want to enjoy the view during one of many fall regattas, read on to get the inside scoop on the DMV’s rowing community. We caught up with six rowers to get a sense of why people fall in love with the sport, why it’s so popular in the DMV, and how newbies or returning rowers can get involved.


Alexandria Community Rowing Club
Jennifer Bright, Rower

 On Tap: How has the DMV’s rowing community changed in recent years?
Jennifer Bright: The variety of rowing clubs and programs has grown over the last decade, and residents in the DMV can find a program that fits their skill level, competitive interest, time and location needs.

OT: Why do you row?
JB: I love the community of rowers. This sport brings together men and women from so many disciplines. The common factor is love of the sport and commitment to pursuing the perfect stroke.

OT: Any opportunities for rowers this season?
JB: Starting in November, ACR will begin the winter training program. Community members [can volunteer or compete on] February 17-18 at the MidAtlantic Erg Sprints, the second largest indoor rowing competition in the world.

Learn more about ACR at www.rowalexandria.com, and February’s MidAtlantic Erg Sprints at www.ergsprints.com.


Anacostia Community Boathouse Association
Jennifer Ney, President

On Tap: What makes rowing both challenging and rewarding?
Jennifer Ney: Rowing is the ultimate team sport. It demands both power and finesse to achieve boat speed. Rowing demands balance, synchronicity and coordination, and every member of the crew must work together. I love the challenge.

OT: What’s unique about the ACBA?
JN: The Potomac River [is] considered [a] hotbed for rowing and paddling. The Anacostia Community Boathouse has placed the Anacostia River on the map.

OT: How can we get involved?
JN: Check out one of our three clubs who host a wide array of programs. All three host on-the-water programming from March through November: Capital Rowing Club, DC Strokes and Prince William Rowing Club.

Learn more about ACBA at www.anacostiaboathouse.org.


Capital Rowing Club
Heidi Scalzott, Learn to Row Rep

On Tap: Tell us about CRC’s Learn to Row program.
Heidi Scalzott: The next [Learn to Row] class session begins September 30.

OT: What other programs does CRC offer?
HS: Rowers who have some experience but haven’t rowed in awhile sometimes feel more comfortable joining intermediate rowing. Capital also has sculling classes, an adaptive rowing program and a juniors’ program. For more experienced rowers, we also have a competitive men’s and women’s team. Finally, Capital offers a “Your Team” rowing for private rowing sessions.

OT: What do you enjoy most about being in the CRC community?
HS: Capital is as much a social club as it is a rowing club: both a.m. and p.m. meet for happy hour and plan other social events both at the boathouse and throughout DC. Many good friendships and even a few weddings have emerged as a result of rowing with Capital.

Learn more about CRC and the next Learn to Row session on September 30 at www.capitalrowing.org.


DC Strokes Rowing Club
Brian Forehand, President

On Tap: What is DC Strokes’ mission?
Brian Forehand: We are the oldest LGBTQ+ rowing club in the world. Inclusion is an important part of our mission, and we welcome gay and straight rowers of diverse backgrounds. DC Strokes was founded on the belief that everyone should have access to the sport of rowing and its many benefits.

OT: Has the club made any changes recently to promote inclusivity? 
BF: This season, DC Strokes proudly adopted our “Statement of Inclusion and Transgender & Non-Binary Identity Policy” that reinforces our support and advocacy for all LGBTQ + Ally athletes, and creates a safe and supportive environment for transgender and non-binary individuals at a time when we startlingly see the rights of these individuals infringed upon throughout the nation.

OT: How do we join?
BF: We welcome individuals of all levels – no prior experience necessary! We offer two Learn to Row sessions. Folks with at least one year of prior experience are welcome to join our competitive  program or our club program.

Learn more about DC Strokes at www.dcstrokes.org.


Prince William Rowing Club
Al Wilson, President

On Tap: Any PWRC events this fall for beginners?
Al Wilson: Come check out one of PWRC’s free Learn to Row events! We’ll give you a tour of the boathouse and a history of our club, teach you the basics of the rowing stroke using a rowing machine, then give you an opportunity to try rowing on the water with some of our members. We plan to offer one Learn to Row on September 17.

OT: Any other opportunities to get involved in the coming months?
AW: In November, our annual membership meeting will be open to the public, and we welcome all who are interested in learning more about our club and about getting involved in the sport of rowing.

OT: Why would you recommend PWRC to local rowers?
AW: Here in the DC and Northern Virginia area, we have amazing water to row on and a big diversity of residents who work hard and are looking for a way to be fit, have fun and relax in the great outdoors. We love to teach people to row, compete in regattas, relax on the peaceful Occoquan Reservoir and have fun off the water with social activities.

Learn more about PWRC and the Learn to Row event on September 17 at www.pwrc.org.


RowSource
Rachel Freedman, Founder

On Tap: What inspired you to launch RowSource?
Rachel Freedman: My goal was to create a resource for athletes who came into the sport later in life, did not have a high school and/or college rowing pedigree, and did not have their sights on training to make the national team.

OT: Tell me about your experience rowing with Capital Rowing Club.
RF: I learned to row with Capital Rowing Club in 2001 at age 23, and remained a member of its morning club program for seven years.

OT: What about with DC Strokes?
RF: I stepped into a dedicated coxswain role and from the first practice I attended in 2010, I knew this team was different. And a kind of different I wanted to be a part of.

OT: Different how?
RF: DC Strokes has influenced my ever-growing understanding and support of the LGBTQ+ community. I’ll never forget the first time one club member asked me, “So, how do you identify?” and I was clueless about what she meant. No more. I’m thankful to Strokes for helping me become a passionate, outspoken ally.

Check out www.RowSource.com for more information on all things rowing.

Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins
Photos: Courtesy of the Washington Redskins

Josh Norman Grinds Toward Greatness

If anyone doubts the Washington Redskins’ decision to make Josh Norman the highest-paid cornerback in the National Football League, it’s certainly not Coach Jay Gruden.

The plain-spoken head coach told On Tap during the team’s training camp in Richmond that despite signing a whopping five-year, $75 million deal in 2016, Norman shows no signs of complacency and routinely works harder than anyone on the team.

“He’s a great player and leader for us,” Gruden said. “When you sign a contract like Josh signed, the other players can take it a couple of different ways. But when they see how hard he works and how hard he prepares before and after practice, and they see him with a soccer ball, his work ethic just rubs off on everybody.”

Wait, what – a soccer ball? Sure enough, when On Tap caught up with Norman after practice, the team’s marquee defensive player nonchalantly dribbled a red, white and green soccer ball off the football field. Asked to explain, Norman smiled and said it’s just another way to improve his football – not futball – game.

“It’s about footwork and disciplining your feet – always having something on your foot moving around,” he explained.

The unorthodox approach and tireless work ethic seem to be paying off for the high-dollar cover corner, and not just at the bank. Norman made the Pro Bowl in 2015, and despite failing to repeat the achievement in 2016 (at least in part because of a weaker defensive supporting cast), he remains one of the most respected cornerbacks in the NFL.

Although he didn’t make the Pro Bowl last year, Norman said he thinks 2016 was his best season yet. Redskins coaches routinely asked the South Carolina native to cover the league’s toughest receivers, including the Giants’ Odell Beckham and the Cowboys’ Dez Bryant. Norman rarely came up on the losing end of those matchups.

A Coastal Carolina University alum, Norman was once viewed as a marginal pro football prospect. That’s undoubtedly part of why the sixth-year pro is regularly the last guy off the practice field and voracious in the film room, devouring video of opposing quarterbacks and wide receivers in an effort to learn their tendencies and fine-tune his timing and instinct for the ball.

“Wherever I am on a list [of pro cornerbacks], I really don’t care because I rose from the bottom to the top,” he said. “I’m a boss at my position. Just ask the receivers I go against. I’ve been everything you can be as a defensive back, and the only thing that I’m lacking now is a Super Bowl.”

Winning a Super Bowl, of course, is the ultimate goal in the NFL. So, what do the Redskins – who made the playoffs in 2015 and then missed them in 2016 – have to do to not only get back to the postseason, but ultimately attain football’s holy grail?

“We have to play sound, disciplined football with everybody doing their job,” Norman said. “It’s the offensive line coming off the football, the defensive line playing with gap integrity [filling gaps in the offensive line], linebackers coming downhill [rushing toward the ball carriers], and safeties and corners breaking on the ball. Those are the key components of winning any football game, and if we focus on that, we’ll go far.”

Norman also warned his teammates against complacency.

“We have to always outwork ourselves and our opponents,” the 29-year-old player said. “We can’t have that lull, that lax, in our brains where we say, ‘This is just a game,’ and we can roll over and just win by a field goal or seven points. We have to treat every game as if it was our last, and by having that mentality and being aggressive, we’ll be fine.”

Speaking of being aggressive, Redskins Defensive Coordinator Greg Manusky plans to use the blitz more this season, allowing Norman to play off the ball and take advantage of his natural instincts.

“I like being aggressive,” Norman said. “I play a style of defense that knows this aggressive blitzing mentality. It causes multiple turnovers and big plays. We’ll see how it plays out in the games.”

When Norman isn’t studying film, or practicing with his teammates, he can often be found working with his charity Starz24, a reflection of his jersey number. The charitable, nonprofit organization works with youth in underprivileged communities to encourage healthy and active lifestyles, while providing good role models and mentoring. Norman launched the charity during his three-year stint with the Carolina Panthers, and relocated it to Washington when he took a job with the Redskins three years ago.

“When I first got drafted, my hometown [of Greenwood, South Carolina] was dealing with some pretty grim statistics,” he recalled. “We were pretty high up there with violent crimes and other negative statistics that prompted me to do something about it.”

Norman said he knew he wanted to address some of the heaviest issues faced by the Greenwood community.

“We are newly active in the DC area, as we just launched publicly in DC. There are challenges that come with any region. There are pros and cons, but I see the entry into the DC market as an exciting next step for us.”

The celebrity football player said Starz24 is more meaningful to him than he can explain.

“I believe that [for] those who are given much, much is required,” he said. “It means something when I am able to help do my part to better the lives of others. That’s what it’s all about, and that’s what I’m all about.”

Learn more about Starz24 at www.starz24.org, and the Redskins’ 2017 season at www.redskins.com.

Photo: Washington Redskins’ official Facebook page
Photo: Washington Redskins’ official Facebook page

A Day In The Life: Redskins VP Doug Williams

Doug Williams doesn’t have a spot in the Pro Football Hall of Fame, but he’s a bona fide NFL legend nonetheless, especially among Washington Redskins fans. The Grambling State University alum became the first black quarterback to reach professional football’s pinnacle in 1988 when he engineered an upset 42-10 victory against the Denver Broncos in Super Bowl XXII, becoming the game’s most valuable player and an enduring reminder of the Redskins’ glory years.

In the quarter-century since Williams retired from football’s playing field, he has remained firmly entrenched in the game, burnishing his reputation as a winner – first as head coach at the college level and then as a scouting director for the NFL’s Tampa Bay Buccaneers. In 2011, Redskins owner Dan Snyder – perhaps aiming to recapture the winning spark that Williams brought to the franchise all those years ago – offered him a job as a talent evaluator in the team’s front office. Williams did well, helping to assemble a solid core of veterans and younger players who improved the team on both sides of the ball.

When former Redskins General Manager Scot McLoughlin left the team under controversy in the off-season, Snyder and Redskins President Bruce Allen decided to eliminate the GM position and elevate Williams to senior vice president of player personnel, a lofty perch that gives him control over critical elements of the front office. During the Redskins’ training camp in Richmond in August, On Tap talked with Williams about his new role and his approach to one of the most unique jobs in the NFL.

On Tap: Your permanent office is a couple of hours away at the team’s headquarters in Ashburn, but today you’re out here under the hot sun watching your team get ready for the 2017 season. How would you describe your new role with the Redskins?
Doug Williams: The good thing about it is we don’t have the title of general manager anymore. A lot of the things [McLoughlin] was in charge of, that’s me now. I don’t deal with the strength coach, I don’t deal with the equipment manager and I don’t deal with the trainer. But everything else, I’m a part of. My job is to look over the personnel department and make sure we have a great department with the guys in there. And I think we do.

OT: What’s the most important element in an effective front office responsible for assembling a winning team on the field?
DW: Continuity. We’ve been together here for a few years now, and some a little longer, and I think we have a good team. Even with our road scouts and bringing [eight-year Redskins front office veteran] Kyle Smith up as the new director of college scouting and [16-year Redskins veteran] Tim Gribble as the assistant, we still maintained continuity. We added a couple of new pieces, but we’re kind of like a football team. You bring in pieces to fit the puzzle. My job is to make sure when we are out on the road, whether it’s the road scout or the free agent market scout, we try to find the best talent that we can for this football team. We’ll always be in the market for the best football player.

OT: As a longtime talent scout, who among the rookies are you most excited about this season?
DW: I’m excited about all of them, but all eyes are going to be on [first-round draft pick and defensive end] Jonathan Allen. You’ve got [linebackers] Ryan Anderson and Hardy Nickerson. I think Anderson, who had a great career at Alabama, is going to come in and give us some depth. But we’re looking to Jonathan Allen [also a college standout at Alabama] to come in and just be who he is.

OT: When you look at the team as a whole from a scouting perspective, what is the most important piece of the puzzle?
DW: When are you are building a football team, to me, it’s very important to start from inside out. And I say that from the trenches – on both sides of the trenches, whether it’s O-line or D-line. If you can build your offensive and defensive lines, you can work around the other pieces of the puzzle. If you’ve got that offensive line, you give your quarterback a chance to stand up.

OT: Aside from raw physical talent, what do you look for in a player?
DW: Mental toughness, character and passion. You want them coming hard at practice! There ain’t nothing like coming to practice, and you have guys who love to practice because the hardest part of the game is coming to practice. Sunday is supposed to be fun. If you bring that passion and attitude to the practice field and have great days, you look at those guys and see it.

OT: How do you assess that?
DW: We go in the back room and we watch tapes. It’s about finishing plays. We watch how a guy finishes plays and moves around, and it’s those types of things that inform you as a personnel coach or whatever.

On Tap: What’s the missing ingredient to help the Redskins get back to the Super Bowl?
DW: No doubt about it – it’s getting to the playoffs. When you get there, strange things can happen. But you’ve got to get there. We were on the verge last year and we made it the year before, but we’ve got to be consistent. If we can get [over] the hump and get to the playoffs, I think we’ve got the talent to compete with any team in this league.

OT: What does it mean to you to be a Redskins legend and the only black quarterback to win a Super Bowl?
DW: It’s when I come across a guy in his late 60s or 70s and he says, “Man, that day…”  They don’t have to say anymore. I’m fortunate to be that guy. It could have been somebody else, but it was me, and I appreciate that [I] was given the opportunity to do that.

Learn more about the Redskins and the team’s 2017 season at www.redskins.com.

CAN’T LIVE WITHOUT
The good Lord
Food and air
Family
My job

MUST-HAVE ITEMS
Blue jeans
Polo shirts
Flip-flops

REDSKINS ESSENTIALS
A watch to make sure I get to work on time
Film
A screen
A computer and tablets to work with
An office

Photo: Courtesy of Penn Social
Photo: Courtesy of Penn Social

Draft Picks: Where To Watch Football

Football season is back! It’s time to rock our oversized jerseys, grub on the best American bar food, and hang out with a crowd to support our favorite college and NFL teams. The DMV has endless options for where to catch the game, but we’ve narrowed it down to 10 spots on our radar this season. Read on to learn about these spots and their drink specials, high-quality TV setups, team allegiances and more.

10 Tavern
Drink specials: $5 craft pints, $5 cocktails, $4 domestic drafts/bottles, $6 wine
Teams: All DC and Maryland teams
This new, upscale sports bar is entering its first NFL season, and the 10 Tavern team is hoping the flood of Caps fans that took advantage of over 30 TVs during hockey season turns into an excited football crowd this fall. 10 Tavern is all about happy hour, which goes practically all day, from 11:30 a.m. to 7:10 p.m., and includes $5 craft pints and cocktails, and $4 domestic drafts and bottles. The Chinatown spot recently participated in the DC Burger Battle at Hill Country Backyard Barbecue, so it’s no secret that the food is high quality. The bar is still working on updating its food specials menu. “We are a scratch kitchen sports bar, we don’t have your typical bar food,” says general manager Jackie Carlton. 707 G St. NW, DC; www.10tavern.com

BlackFinn Ameripub
Drink specials: $22-$30 draft towers, $18 Guinness Blonde buckets (six bottles), $3.50 Miller Lite drafts, $4 Dos Equis drafts, $4 Blackfinn Amber drafts, $5 Heineken drafts, $5 Sam Adams drafts, $5 Angry Orchard drafts, $6 Bacardi drinks, $7 Belvedere and Red Bull drinks
Teams: University of Tennessee, Northwestern University, Appalachian State, Miami Dolphins
Blackfinn’s set-up is ideal for watching football. “You cannot turn your head and not see a TV,” says Blackfinn’s Kam Khazai. They’re great beer specials pair up nicely with a quality menu too., making it “the perfect combination of cheap beer and quality eats!” The bar itself is one big football fan and its mixed fan-base makes it so that there’s always someone to cheer with. For certain big games, the crowds can get large and rowdy in the best way possible. 1620 I St. NW, DC; www.blackfinnameripub.com

Champps
Drink specials: $5 cocktails, $5 craft beer of the month
Arlington’s biggest bar features 50 TVs altogether, with five big screens that will always be showing a local team’s game. For any and all football fans, Champps makes it easy to watch the game with sound by going to the designated area that has your team’s game on. The stadium-style seating offers over 300 seats, including two outdoor patios and a 43-seat bar. Though the football-themed food and drink specials menu has yet to be finalized, bar manager Sean Auld says Champps is the place to be because of the fun atmosphere and events, including watch parties and karaoke. 1201 S. Joyce St. C-10, Arlington, VA; www.champps.com

City Tap House
Drink specials: 32-oz. stein of Victory Homegrown Lager or Victory Seasonal for $10
Get cozy in DC’s laidback “man (or woman) cave.” Surrounded by cozy rustic décor, City Tap House makes it easy to watch any game that’s on, whether you’re sitting in the dining room or the bar area. Lots of hotel guests and brunchgoers swing through City Tap, so you can expect the food and dining experience to be top-notch. You’ll definitely see a lineup of different jerseys at the bar, making it a perfect place for some friendly competition. “Between the multiple televisions/games and our knowledgeable staff on beer, food and football, we hope to create a fun experience,” says City Tap’s Lisa Cascone. 901 9th St. NW, DC; www.citytap.com

Mason Inn
Drink specials: Change daily
Teams: Ravens, Falcons, Panthers, Steelers, Green Bay Packers
Glover Park is home to Mason Inn, the official DC bar of the Baltimore Ravens. This bar is one of a kind, with fans of everything from SEC college football to East Coast NFL teams there to catch the game, including the occasional Redskins fan. Mason Inn shows every SEC game on Saturdays, and will focus on fantasy football this season by setting a few TVs to RedZone. “One thing that sets us apart is our entertainment license,” says owner Corey Lockett. “We can have a live band onstage while you are cheering on your team. For example, for New Orleans-based teams, we can have a brass band during halftime or play through commercials.” Drink specials are always changing, but guests can expect some kind of themed punch or shot available as a special. 2408 Wisconsin Ave. NW; www.masoninndc.com

Penn Quarter Sports Tavern
Drink specials: $12 Miller Lite pitchers, $14 Yuengling pitchers, $16 Blue Moon pitchers, bucket specials (six beers for the price of five)
Food specials: Half price food options from 7 p.m. to close
Teams: Broncos, Seahawks
This classic sports bar has the best of both worlds, with an outdoor café including high-top tables, an outdoor patio (covered and heated with three TVs showing games), and a full bar on both the first and second floor. There’s not one bad seat in the house with DIRECTV on 35 TVs. “Football at [Penn Quarter] is a legendary party,” says general manager John Scherr. “Come see for yourself. Our TV setup is second to none.” Don’t miss out on the party atmosphere and game day drink specials at Penn Quarter.639 Indiana Ave. NW, DC; www.pennquartersportstavern.com

Penn Social
Drink specials: $4 Miller Lite and Blue Moon, and $5 rotating local craft draft
Welcome to DC’s “Sunday football melting pot.” Penn Social keeps game day fun with 15 screens, including 11 12-inch HD projectors, one 22-inch HD projector and four HD TVs. The Penn Quarter staple shows every game on its screens, making it a go-to bar for fantasy leagues. Although it’s not team specific, don’t miss a chance to win Redskins tickets throughout the season. “The ambiance at [Penn Social] is casual and fun,” says Penn Social General Manager Sara Norman. “We keep it light. But we’re serious about our gridiron.” 801 E St. NW, DC; www.pennsocialdc.com

The Prospect
Drink specials: $5 Jameson, $5 draft beers
Team: Redskins
This U Street location takes Monday night football very seriously, serving an authentic dish from the home team’s city every week, as well as The Prospect’s award-winning wings. Though the bar is “hail to the Redskins first,” according to general manager Anthony Joines, you can still find Patriots, Steelers and even Cowboys fans catching their team’s game on one of the 45 HD TVs. Joines says this neighborhood spot encourages rivalries, and “it’s a magical thing to see so many different kind of NFL jerseys sitting next to each other.” 1214 U St. NW, DC; theprospectdc.com

Public Bar
Drink specials: $2 off beer, wine and cocktails (Monday through Friday from 4-8 p.m.)
Teams: Raiders, Ravens, Redskins
This Dupont Circle bar is home to over 50 TVs – including the largest HD projection screen in DC – and also has the highly sought-after NFL package, making it easy to please sports fans who come to kick back. Though drink and food specials are always changing, there’s guaranteed to be beer specials and wings for game day. Watch a game on any of the three levels, whether it’s on the rooftop, in the lounge or right inside at the bar. Ravens and Redskins fans are always welcome, and friendly rivalries are encouraged, but Public Bar is home to the DC Metro Raiders Booster Club, who takes over the lounge level whenever the Raiders are playing. Bartender Abby Dubose notes that Public Bar is definitely a chill spot. “People are comfortable here, and it’s clear,” she says. “You can scream and jump and go crazy, or you can kick back and relax all at once, and it’s fine and fun.” 1214 18th St. NW, DC; www.publicbar.co

Union Jacks Rio
Drink specials: Pitchers and buckets of beer
Team: Redskins
Gaithersburg’s mega-pub has all the goods when it comes to watching your favorite football team, preferably the Redskins. With over 20 TVs, including four on the patio, Union Jacks Rio is able to play different games so one side of the bar can watch the Ravens while the other can catch the Skins. While this bar has a general population of Redskins fans, it’s still a friendly atmosphere. “Why wouldn’t you come here?” asks general manager Rob Whetzel. “We’ve got the biggest amount of space with the most TVs in this area.” 9811 Washingtonian Blvd. Gaithersburg, MD; www.unionjacksrio.com

Photo: Will Niccolls Photography
Photo: Will Niccolls Photography

Mountain Biking the DMV

On an early summer Saturday at Rosaryville State Park in Upper Marlboro, Maryland, a half-dozen early risers congregate in a parking lot, stretch their limbs, and strap on helmets and gloves before climbing onto brightly colored mountain bikes.

Moments later, excited hoots and hollers pierce the muggy morning air, followed by a whoosh of kinetic energy as the group drops single file into a dense forest trail under a cooling canopy of hardwood trees surrounded by fragrant wildflowers. The 80-minute ride around a 10-mile loop – just a half-hour from downtown Washington – sends these riders hurtling down ravines, chugging up hills, blasting through creek beds, and hopping over occasional logs and rocks. It will also leave them flecked with mud, covered in sweat and grinning from ear to ear.

It’s a scene that plays out hundreds of times each week throughout the Mid-Atlantic region, which over the past decade or so has become one of the nation’s premier mountain biking locales. Northern Virginia and Southern Maryland offer dozens of excellent trail riding options an hour or less from DC, a fact that surprises some considering the region’s relatively low altitude and urban setting.

Martin Fernandez, who has written three outstanding books about biking in the DMV area – including Mountain Biking Virginia and Mountain Biking the Washington, D.C./Baltimore Area – told On Tap that the region is “a virtual mecca for mountain biking.”

“We’re lucky,” Fernandez said. “In Virginia, coupled with the riding trails available in Maryland and bordering Pennsylvania and West Virginia, you could spend several years and not ride all of what is available.”

A big chunk of the credit for the sport’s growth in the area can be attributed to the Mid-Atlantic Off-Road Enthusiasts (MORE). Now celebrating its 25th anniversary, the nonprofit recreational organization started out as a club of about 30 mountain bikers; it now boasts more than 1,500 members and is steadily growing. Ernie Rodriguez, who has served as MORE’s president for the past four years, said the group’s mission is reflected in its slogan: “Riding bikes and building trails since 1992.”

“Everything goes under that – the social experience, the advocacy effort, the communication with public land managers, and the building and maintenance of trails,” Rodriguez explained over hamburgers and beers at MORE’s annual summer celebration at Seneca Creek State Park in Maryland last month.

As we talked, about a hundred people of all ages were heading out for, or returning from, trail rides in the lush green park. They milled about – chatting and laughing, swapping bike and trail tips, and professing their love for the sport. Local bike shops and national bike manufacturers showed up to provide free bike swag, bike maintenance and demo rides on fancy new models.

MORE’s work is entirely volunteer-based, and its members don’t just ride bikes and rock cookouts – they get to work. MORE volunteers devoted more than 6,000 hours of labor on area trails last year alone. The group maintains more than 400 miles of natural-surface trails in 41 state and county parks throughout the region, and has constructed nearly 100 miles of new, sustainable trails. The club also leads hundreds of rides each year at area parks, ranging from beginner to intermediate to advanced.

While men often seem to outnumber women on area trails, that could be changing. Anne Mader, owner of The Bike Lane – a full-service bike shop with locations in Reston and Springfield – said she is selling more mountain bikes to women than ever before, and that manufacturers are making bikes specifically designed for them. Mader sometimes teams up with MORE to offer riding clinics for women.

“Twenty years ago, when I started mountain biking, there were very few women,” she said. “And now I go to some trailheads and there are almost more women than guys. The sport is definitely growing for women. A lot of women are coming to it in their 30s and 40s, getting into it later in life – maybe because they’re not running anymore but want to be out in nature.”

Mader also said there is a misperception of the sport as death-defying and dangerous. It can be that, certainly – but it doesn’t have to be.

“Mountain biking can be as easy as going on a nice single-track trail and riding just to be outside,” she said. “There really is a trail for every ability level.”

Rodriguez encouraged anyone interested in the sport to check out MORE’s website at www.more-mtb.org. He said even if you don’t have a bike, the group could help you find a loaner for an initial ride and then a good deal on something used if you take to the sport.

“It’s a good way to meet some really great people,” he said. “It’s really exhilarating to ride, and you get to be out in nature. What more could you ask for?”


Must-ride local trails

Fountainhead
One of the most revered mountain biking destinations in the region, Fountainhead, near Fairfax Station, Virginia, has a little something for everyone: easy, flowing single-track, moderately difficult technical areas and an expert section that will put even the most skilled of riders to the test.

Patapsco
Located in a big valley near Ellicott City, Maryland, Patapsco features an appealing mix of fast-flowing trails, rock gardens, bridges, and switchback curves with well-maintained berms and trails. This park also features a pump track where riders can practice their jumps.

Rosaryville
Rosaryville in Upper Marlboro, Maryland is an excellent trail for beginners and intermediates, featuring a 10-mile perimeter loop through a beautiful forest with a fun, easy flow, a few moderate ascents and a generally mellow vibe. Be careful to look for equestrian riders who share the park.

Learn more about all three tracks at www.singletracks.com

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Hand Painted Swinger at Nationals Park

Nats fans enjoyed more than a ball game Friday night when they were treated to a concert by local rock band Hand Painted Swinger. The crowd got pumped for the game at Budweiser Terrace, jamming to modern and classic rock hits while the Nats got ready to face the Texas Rangers! Photos: Devin Overbey

Photo: Getty Images
Photo: Getty Images

From Belgium to DC: Washington Mystics’ Budding Superstar Emma Meesseman

The Washington Mystics’ Emma Meesseman is an extremely busy person. The 6’4” center from Belgium had just ended her EuroLeague Women season with BC UMMC Ekaterinburg before heading to DC for the start of the Mystics campaign in late May. But before getting comfortable, she prepared to head back home to participate in the FIBA world championship qualifiers with her national team. Prior to her venture to Europe last month, we had a chance to speak with the budding superstar about her newest teammate, players she looks up to and flying in airplanes.

On Tap: When did you start playing basketball, and what attracted you to it?
Emma Meesseman: I started playing when I was five years old. At that time, I just loved playing all kinds of sports with a ball. I did like basketball a lot though, because my mother used to play and achieved a lot of things in Belgium. I wanted to do the same thing and be better.

OT: What are your personal expectations for this season? 
EM: I just want to get better at every aspect of the game. Overseas, I have been working a lot on shooting the ball quicker. It’s more technical, so I’ve got to keep bringing that to the court.

OT: Some people have mentioned you as an MVP candidate. Is that a goal of yours?
EM: My ultimate goal is to get that ring with this team. I will try to do my best and give everything in order to do so, but individual titles have never been a goal for me.

OT: I know you haven’t played much with Elena Delle Donne yet, but what has that experience been like so far?
EM: It has been great. She’s a great player and person, and it is so fun to even think about all the possibilities that we have with her. We’re still getting to know each other better, but I am sure we’ll have a fun season.

OT: Is this the most talented team you’ve ever played on? What do you expect from the Mystics?
EM: It pretty much is. It is definitely the one that gives me the best feeling and makes me really believe that we can achieve something big. I don’t want to think too far [ahead] already. I am more of a person that takes everything step by step, game by game. We just have to win as many [games] as possible in order to get to the playoffs.

OT: What players do you look to for inspiration and improvements on your game?
EM: I don’t watch specific players for certain moves. But I can watch any basketball game and see moves and think to add them. I do like the style of Larry Bird a lot. I find myself more and more looking up clips of him.

OT: A lot of European players adopt NBA teams growing up. Did you adopt a team, and if so, do you still root for them? 
EM: Growing up, I never watched a single NBA game. I watched some highlights of different games, but I never rooted for a team. Since playing in the WNBA, I’ve gotten to watch games on TV, so if there is one team that I look up to, it’s the San Antonio Spurs. The way that they play together is like magic. To me, that is perfect basketball.

OT: It must be tough to balance playing on pro and national teams. Do you ever get tired of traveling around the world so much? What do you do on all those plane rides?
EM: This year is the first year I combined the national team with the WNBA. I’ll have to wait and see how that goes, but on both teams, there is a great staff that helps me the best they can. It is kind of hard to be away from home year-round, to keep playing basketball nonstop. But as long as I take care of my body and keep loving basketball, I fully enjoy it. I do have to admit that traveling used to be way more exciting than it is now. Being on a plane is boring now, and I hope every single time that I’ll be able to sleep to pass the time.

OT: Is it hard to watch the Mystics when you’re away for prolonged amounts of time?
EM: I have not been in that situation just yet, but can for sure imagine it will be hard to see them play while I am overseas. But I would feel the same if I was not able to play with my national team.

OT: What’s your favorite part of playing in DC?
EM: The city is amazing to me. It is the place that feels closest to home for me. Also, the fact that when I came here, Coach T [Mike Thibault] was completely rebuilding the team; I was kind of here from the start. It’s so cool to see the progression we have made, and to play with teammates that are friends.

For more information on the Washington Mystics’ 2017 season, visit mystics.wnba.com.

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Gary Russell Jr. vs Oscar Escandon

Backed by an enthusiastic local cheering section of friends and family, Russell (28-1 with 17 knockouts) used a devastating array of jabs and combinations to send Escandon (25-3 with 17 knockouts) to the mat twice before referee Harvey Dock stopped the fight just one minute into the seventh round of the 12 round fight. Photos: Mike Coleman

Photo: Michael Coleman
Photo: Michael Coleman

Fight Night Thrills at MGM National Harbor

MGM National Harbor hosted a raucous, rowdy and relentlessly entertaining fight night this Saturday, May 20 as hometown hero Gary Russell Jr. knocked out Óscar Escandón in the seventh round to retain his World Boxing Council featherweight title.

Backed by an enthusiastic local cheering section of friends and family, Russell (28-1 with 17 knockouts) used a devastating array of jabs and combinations to send Escandón (25-3 with 17 knockouts) to the mat twice before referee Harvey Dock stopped the fight just one minute into the seventh round of the 12-round fight.

After the match, a jubilant Russell, 28, joined the crowd in an impromptu birthday singalong for his father.

“First and foremost, I got to say, ‘Happy birthday’ to my father,” he said in the microphone after Dock stopped the fight. “I fought a tough competitor. I knew Escandón wanted to come and bring his best. I knew he was going to come forward. I was ready for him.”

The main event was one of a half-dozen intense boxing matches in the MGM’s sparking new theater Saturday afternoon and evening. The theater and ring exploded into momentary chaos during the undercard preceding the Russell fight.

Andre Dirrell seemed to lose his International Boxing Federation super middleweight title bout against José Uzcátegui when the Venezuelan challenger landed a vicious blow to Dirrell’s chin that sent the champion to the mat at the end of the eighth round.

But referee Bill Clancy later determined the blow came after the bell, and awarded the victory to Dirrell on a disqualification. Shortly afterward, Dirrell’s trainer charged Uzcategui and landed a punch on him before being subdued by ring officials. The shocking turn of events led to scuffles inside and outside of the ring, but order was soon restored.

The fights were broadcast nationally on Showtime, which helped lend a festive air to the entire event. Afterward, excited spectators – many dressed to the nines – poured into the MGM’s gleaming, gilded lobbies, still buzzing about what they just saw.

MGM National Harbor has already proven itself as a draw for top-flight musical entertainment. Saturday’s nationally televised fights proved that the facility is more than worthy of championship boxing as well.

MGM National Harbor Resort & Casino: 101 MGM National Ave. Oxon Hill, MD; 301-971-5000; www.mgmnationalharbor.com