- The Washington Times - Thursday, May 7, 2009

The Washington Capitals’ playoff ride could give fans from Virginia another way to show their loyalty - while they ride.

The Caps are collecting 350 paid applications for specialized license plates, which would feature the team name and logo and may appear on vehicles in the commonwealth as soon as next year.

“We’ve had a lot of people ask for them from all over the state,” said Jennifer Vassil, a community coordinator with the Caps in charge of the initiative. “We’re definitely growing in popularity, and that should help us to complete our goal by the end of the year.”

The push for sign-ups comes after the Virginia Legislature failed to approve the Caps plate in March, insisting that the team have the paid applications in hand first. The team now has about 110 applications from fans and has been advertising the plate on its Web site and during games at Verizon Center. The team plans to collect applications until Dec. 31 and, if successful in collecting at least 350, will submit them to the Legislature next spring.

Sen. Mary Margaret Whipple, Northern Virginia Democrat, has told the team she would sponsor license plate legislation.

The most recent effort for a Caps plate in Virginia comes after several years of lobbying by fans and after Maryland began distributing plates last fall.

More than 400 fans in Maryland now have special Caps plates, which require a one-time fee of $50, half of which goes to Washington Capitals Charities. The Redskins and D.C. United have plates in both Maryland and Virginia. The District of Columbia doesn’t yet offer plates for local sports teams.

“We see 1,000 different college license plates and you see Redskins and D.C. United, and it was one of those things where you said, ‘Hey how come we don’t have the opportunity to support our team in this way?’ ” said Joe Krafty, a Capitals fan from Fairfax who applied for the plate. “You need a license plate anyway - you might as well buy a Capitals one so that you can show that you’re a fan no matter where you are.”

Matt Leighton, an Arlington resident and student at James Madison, said he has asked his parents to put Caps plates on one of the family cars as a birthday gift. He said he will apply for the plates within the next week and has already pondered how he will personalize them. Possibilities include “Luv Caps,” “Great8,” and “Ov God.”

“I just love the Caps and have as long I can remember,” Leighton said. “This team, this organization, I’m willing to throw down some money for it.”

The application for Virginia plates cost $25 a year, or $35 for any fan who wants them personalized. The Caps have asked all applicants to submit a 250-word essay explaining their devotion to the team. Washington Capitals Charities will receive a portion of the annual fee once Virginia receives 1,000 applications. In Maryland, license plate application fees coupled with a special auction of specific plates have raised more than $21,000 for the team’s charities.

Vassil acknowledged that the team had hoped to collect more signatures earlier this year but now expects interest will rise with the Caps’ recent performance. She said many fans may have been turned off by the annual fee - or the fear that the plate would not be produced in the end.

“It was definitely a hard time economically, … but now we’ve had a lot of new fans,” Vassil said. “We’re trying to help people realize that we’re grateful for them signing up, and we hope they will stick around and know we’re in it for the long haul to get it established.”

• Tim Lemke can be reached at tlemke@washingtontimes.com.

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