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Homeschool Athletic Program

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By Beverly S. Krueger

Donna Kasprick and her husband Wendell have homeschooled their six children for 14 years. Donna has been athletic director for the Omaha/Bellevue boys basketball team (Liberty Eagles) and the Bellevue girls volleyball and basketball teams (Bellevue Mustangs). Omaha has their own girls volleyball and basketball team named the Omaha Warriors. Bellevue is a suburb of Omaha. The Omaha metropolitan area encompasses over 600,000 people.

Donna, thank you for agreeing to share your experience as a homeschool athletic director with us. How long have you been an athletic director?

Three years. We just finished our third year with girls volleyball.

Did you take over an existing program or start your own?

With the girls volleyball and basketball we started our own program. That was the Bellevue Mustangs. But with the Liberty Eagles I took over an existing program.

What motivated you to start the Bellevue Mustangs and to take over the other program?

Kids. Sara had attended one or two of the practices with the Omaha Warriors. In the spring they did different sports, and she went one time and really liked it. She wanted to play volleyball. But, the distance from here to there twice a week hauling the other five kids back and forth, I just didn’t think that was possible. So I talked with the Warriors athletic director, Sherry Dick, and she said to start our own volleyball program you’ll need a gym to practice in, a coach, and of course the girls. I knew I could get the girls, because I had two and I knew several others, so I knew the population was there. One of the moms had stopped in at Bellevue Junior Sports Association (BJSA) and she asked about their gym. They said it was open for public use. I called them and explained what I wanted, and they said we could use the gym during the day because no one was using it. That first year we got the gym free or maybe paid a dollar a person each time we used the gym, so all I needed was a coach. Sherry had given me some names. I also called the coach at Grace University (a private Christian college in Omaha), and they gave me some more names. It just wasn’t working out. Grace couldn’t help me because they wouldn’t know if the girls would be able to coach until September. It was in August and we needed to get started. Joe Mancuso called me. He had heard that I was thinking of starting a volleyball team. He was wondering how it was going because he wanted something for his daughter. I said I needed a parent, somebody who knows something about volleyball to get the girls started working and training until I can find a coach in September from Grace. He said he could do that, but I didn’t know if he could take it over full time because he was a fireman. I said that would be great. We started practicing. His sister came and helped. He said if we could work around his schedule, he thought he could take over as the coach. A couple in our church donated the money for the uniforms. So we had it. We had a gym, we had a coach, we had uniforms, we had girls. Then I called and arranged some games. It seemed to be working quite well considering I had no clue what volleyball was. I had to learn right along with the girls. We were having so much fun doing volleyball, we decided to go ahead and do basketball. Joe stepped right along with the program as the basketball coach, and another couple, Mike and Christa Eash, signed up as assistant coaches.

Tell me a little bit about the history of your work with the Liberty Eagles.

There was a small Christian school called Liberty Christian School. That first year they were going to let homeschoolers play on the team, because they didn’t have enough kids in the school. So several homeschoolers started out that year as part of that Liberty Christian team. The next year the school had even fewer players. The majority of the boys were homeschooled, so the coach made it a homeschool team. We had a large influx of boys. We had twenty boys that first year. Coach Prettyman did everything. He organized the games and the money. It was quite stressful for him. By this time I had done the girls volleyball and basketball for a year, and so I offered to help him out —to organize the games and keep track of things so he could coach rather than deal with parents and everything else that always comes up. He accepted that. We’ve worked together now two years.

What difficulties and obstacles have you come across as an athletic director?

Parents have been some of my biggest obstacles. You expect problems from kids because they are kids. The problem that I did not expect and threw me off guard and still frustrates me is the lack of Christian character in some parents when it comes to sports. It’s just an attitude that everything has to be perfect, but yet it can’t possibly be perfect, so therefore we get really upset and everything’s the coaches problem or something else. That’s a big irritation. A second obstacle was coach talk. I wasn’t prepared for coach talk. You call up to set up a game. He asks how’s your team, and I’d be honest and say we’ve got some little girls or this and that. He would say, "Oh we probably won’t even have a team this year. We just can’t get the girls out." Then you go over there and they look like they’re ready for the nationals or something. It’s just very frustrating. Of course Joe and coach Prettyman are very used to coach talk. I would get really upset, asking why do they say that, and they would smile and laugh at me. So now I don’t believe anything a coach says about his team. You can tell me you have the worst team in the world, that’s fine, but I’m going to prepare like you’re the best because you just can’t tell.

Another difficulty is dealing with the different philosophies of homeschooling and trying to incorporate them all together as one team. You have people who are very competitive, those that are noncompetitive, and those who ride the fence with one day different from another. Trying to get everybody to work together as a group and go towards a goal—that’s hard.

Do some people view the program as intramural type sports or PE?

Yes, or recreational.

And to others this is a team and we’re competitive?

Yes, I try to tell people who are signing up that this is a competitive team. It’s not recreational. So that they know that their kids might not play every single game and that our goal is to win games. That isn’t the only goal we have, but we’re not going to sacrifice a win so that everybody can play. Credenda/Agenda published an excellent article about children and sports that discusses many of these issues. ("Children and Athletics" by Doug Wilson, Credenda Agenda, Vol. 9, No. 1. )

Is there a difference between boys and girls teams?

Yes, there’s a big difference between girls and boys. That’s why as long as I’m an athletic director there will never be mixed gender games. I am so firmly convinced it is against scripture to do that because girls are different from boys. They think differently. They react differently. They play differently. They’re built differently. For example, in a physical game such as basketball, girls under the hoop get an elbow, they’ll take it personally. When they say it’s a personal foul, they aren’t kidding with girls. They may not like that girl for the rest of the season because she said something or poked them in the gut. Boys. I’ve seen them lay skin open under the hoop and afterwards they’re sharing cokes. It doesn’t matter to them. Their makeup is so different. To mix those two together---you can’t do it. That is the big difference, the way they view the game. To girls it is a personal game. It’s a personal thing. There’s more emotion tied up in it. To boys it’s strictly physical. They are out for the kill. If they lose, well that’s alright, we’re still buds. It’s more fun traveling with the boys than the girls. Because even though after a loss, they may be sad or upset-- I’ve held a good portion of them down in the locker room when they’ve cried after a particular game that really meant a lot to them that they lost--but a half hour later and a few slices of pizza and a couple cases of Mountain Dew they’re ready to go again. Girls will rebound, but you have to be careful because that emotional tension is still there and can appear and fracture the team within a matter of seconds.

Have you met any resistance along the way from state or local government?

Yes, Last year when it looked like our boy’s varsity team was really, really good. I wanted to play some of the teams in the local area, the public schools, just to see how we would do. I called the state athletic association and explained to them our situation to see what possible ruling we could get or if we could get an exemption so that their would be no hindrance, and he hung up on me. He said there is no provision made in the rules and hung up. He wouldn’t even talk about it. Nebraska is a very closed state as far as the control over the athletic associations. Kansas and other states surrounding us allow homeschooling teams to be an associate member of the association. They pay a certain fee, and they can play so many games or teams, but they do not have to follow all the requirements. Nebraska is not willing to do that. I talked to HSLDA about what our legal rights would be, and they said it would have to be tested. But I’m not willing to go through that yet.

What role should parents play in athletics?

Parents have the roughest job, because athletics can offer a lot to the students—working together as a team, forming that friendship that everybody needs, a good environment for friendships. But parents have to have the children trained before they come into sports. It cannot be the responsibility of the coach or the athletic director or even the other parents and the team to take care of a rebellious child or a child that does not have the right spirit to work together as a team. The parents job is to raise a child that would be willing to work under somebody else’s authority. That means supporting the coach even if they think he is wrong in some cases, other than blatant things. If he does something at a game that you feel is not right and the kids start complaining just tell them no, don’t even go that route. He’s the authority over you, he’ll answer for it. That transfer of authority from parent to coach is very important, if the child thinks they can supercede that and go back to the parent, then the whole team atmosphere on the court is wrong. It’s no longer a team sport; it’s a me sport.

Be there. I find it very disturbing when parents aren’t there to watch their kids play ball. Regardless of what sport it is, and there are some times they just can’t. But to consistently not be there and not see your child play, that to me is very cruel. Like sending them to church and not going yourself.

What are your recommendations for handling funding of an athletic program?

It’s an area where nobody likes to go. First of all usually in homeschooling you don’t have parents who have money, because it’s a single income family. Finances are tight anyway, so you dread asking for money. You can get some donations, but it’s not consistent. Fund raising is going to have be the thing that eventually supports the program. The thing you have to be careful of is sensitivity to some peoples convictions or preferences about fund raising. Some people feel it’s not right, or they don’t like it. Some churches don’t like us fund raising in the church, so you have to work around that. If we can raise money by doing car washes or selling cookie dough or whatever, that money will be used to help fund the hotel rooms and the entrance fees for out of town games. We can’t rely on gate fees and registration fees to cover the charges for refs, gym rent, equipment, and then to try to give the coaches their own hotel room and gas money when they travel. There’s a lot of money involved. It will have to go to fund raising. As far as getting foundational grants that’s really hard and tricky, because we don’t have 501 c(3) status.

What can the homeschool community do?

Since the homeschool community, basically, is a young homeschool community, our teen groups keep getting larger and larger. I think it is really important for the younger homeschooler parents in the area who have nine, ten, eleven year-olds to be at those games to give that identity to the younger ones that this is their sports team and to support them whenever they can. I announce the games. We put it in the newsletter, but very few extra people show up. I keep thinking that if they did show up and saw how much fun it was, they would want to go back to these games. To go to a basketball game and say this is your team, you can identify with it.

What are the ages kids can become involved in the program?

I have never used grades because I feel grades inhibit or restrict the parents. A lot of homeschoolers don’t use grades. You have to use graded material, but they might be in 7th grade in one thing, 8th grade in another, so it’s hard to tell what particular grade they are in. I’ve found using ages 12 through 19 works the best. Although you do run into problems with the fact that some 12 year olds are 6th graders in some junior high tournaments.

What about educational requirements for sports teams?

My view on this is that we are a group of schools. Our team is more of a conference than a team from a particular school. Each player is representative of a school. That school sets the educational requirements for that player. If a parent feels that playing this sport is more important than academic performance at this time in life, it is their requirement not mine. They can do whatever they want to do. If they don’t want their kids doing school and just playing basketball, fine. They will have to answer for it. I do not check grades. I do not check to see if their schoolwork is done. That’s not my job. That is the job of the school, and we are a conference.

There is a movement in homeschooling to put educational requirements on athletic participation, in other words, you have to show proof that they are doing work. If they take college courses they are ineligible to play on a high school team. You’re eliminating most of your achievers in the upper classes. If you have a child who may take two years to complete his junior work; then in essence he can’t play his senior year. You’re punishing them because they are slower. So we’re eliminating the ones that are not as fast to catch on academically and the ones who are doing honors work. This is one of the most ridiculous ideas I have heard in a long time. The whole purpose of homeschooling is to develop a curriculum so that a child can achieve in whatever he does, so you’re going to eliminate those parameters. I had to deal with this last spring in a homeschool tournament because they had educational requirements. I ran into the same thing with the preliminary data I got out of Wichita for the national homeschool conference, they wanted to add similar restrictions. They need to get their head out of the sand and the NSAA rule book and take a look at homeschooling. That means if your child takes college courses his senior year he can’t play ball. If you run that thinking all the way through then in public schools any kid who takes an honors course is ineligible for athletics. There you go back to your dumb jock theory.

Who is behind the movement to do this?

It’s homeschoolers who are still thinking in a government system. They haven’t become lifers or true homeschoolers. They are still thinking the way the rest of the world is thinking and have not opened their mind to the true philosophy behind homeschooling and what it has to offer children. We are not here to plug them into things. We are to adapt the program or the curriculum to the student not the student to the program.

How do you find facilities to play in?

Telephone. You call every school, every place that you would think has a gym. You send out the word. You hear of a church building putting in a gym, and you call them. The Lord has a real sense of humor with the Bellevue Mustangs. My husband, Wendell, was in the military. He got out. He didn’t retire, but was in the non-active reserves. In 1990 they sent him papers saying he could either get out or retire and one other option. He thought retired sounded nice, so he circled it and sent the paper back in. He got back all this paperwork, put it in the files, and forgot about it. Two years ago Wendell was telling this story to a friend that works at the military base, and he said you can get an ID card with that. Sure enough we could, so we got ID cards. Now we had access to all the base facilities. That August BJSA more than tripled our rates to use their gym during the day. There was no way we could afford to pay it. I thought, I’ll just call the military base gym and see what happens. They asked what age group we were talking about. I said twelve to 19 year-olds. They directed me to the Youth Center director, and she said we could use the Youth Center gym. That’s no problem. Do you have an ID card. I said, yes. So that’s how we got in there. Last year we did pay rent, just so that if people came to the Youth Center, military people, and saw us using the facility, they could say they’re renting the facility. They did have questions why it was being used, but the groups that wanted to use it wanted it at night and we usually didn’t. They would allow us to use it at night for special games. They sort of took a liking to our kids.

How do you find other leagues to play in? How do you line up your games both in state and out of state?

Word of mouth. Other homeschool teams or smaller Christian schools not registered with the government. You’ll hear about one, go to a tournament and that leads you to someone else. Just networking back and forth.

How do you go about setting up your schedule?

In the spring after the basketball season is all done I hold a coaches and athletic directors meeting. We all get together and bring our calendars for the next year. So, we set up our schedules at the end of March. We all get together in a big room and work it out. I can do this night, at this location, how about you? Back and forth. We have it basically set up so that in the fall we don’t have to do all the telephoning, we can just confirm. It’s been extremely helpful and especially for the new teams just starting up because they don’t have to make all that expense trying to find teams to play.

How do you feel about the role of businesses or churches sponsoring the program?

If a business were to sponsor a team there would have to be some sort of advertising either on the shirts or uniforms. I don’t think that would be appropriate at this level to do that, although sports is becoming more commercialized in the public schools. Nike will support things. I had my aunt say I should call Nike and Reebok, especially their women’s division, and see if they would donate shoes or something for our team for advertising. The players all get the same shoes or sports bags.

What about churches? Have you ever approached churches to donate funds?

No, because it is a collection of homeschooolers from different churches. To have one church be our sponsor, there are subtle enough differences between the churches, it would eliminate some homeschoolers from participating mainly because they would not want to be affiliated with a certain church or organization. We keep it just strictly a homeschool thing.

That opens the program up also to kids who don’t belong to a church.

Yes.

How do schools, as opposed to homeschool teams, receive homeschool teams and their supporters when they come to play?

The first year is always interesting. The first time we play a team, they think they’re playing a bunch of geeks. That was one reason I really went all out for uniforms, because the kids do get that attitude from other schools, not so much in our area, but when we go out to different tournaments there is this idea that we’re just a bunch of homeschoolers and probably practice in a closet. That’s why I always tell them you’ve got to look sharp, you’ve got to be sharp. Because you represent the homeschoolers. Play good ball. It’s been interesting. I’ve heard "Wow, they’re really nice." "Gee those girls are really nice and some of them are really pretty." You wonder what’s being taught and what’s being said about homeschoolers within their own schools.

What do kids gain by participating in competitive athletics?

I think it goes back to the purpose of why we even have the program. Why do we have competitive sports. I wasn’t a competitive sports person. I thought they were absolutely unnecessary in anybody’s education until my children reached the teen age years and they wanted to do this.

It teaches them the ability to work as a team. To develop trust, patience and endurance. Not only in the physical, but their mental attitude of developing patience. The trust part in a team, that they’re going to trust that member that they’re going to do what they’re supposed to do. Being able to work out relationships, not only with team members but with other teams. Interpersonal skills. Using the ability to work under other peoples authority other than just their parents or their youth leader at church or their pastor, but other adults. Seeing the mistakes that other adults make and seeing how they can affect that one way or another. All those things working together it’s learning possibilities. It’s also under the controlled environment of the parents. It’s like giving them a microcosm of the world in a bubble. They’re protected from the really nasty stuff while they work things out. Each year the kids grow with the program. I especially see the girls growing, becoming a little more assured of themselves and of the team. They’re working together, not having to go back and redo some of those areas that they had to learn before. Coach Prettyman had an excellent statement, "It’s difficult to coach talent, but you can always coach character." I think that’s the key right there, the kids learn character.

Is it possible for homeschool athletes to be scouted by college teams?

Yes, the doors are opening more and more. It’s usually up to the individual parents. If you know you have a son or a daughter that is extremely talented in athletics, there are ways to get him noticed. God will open doors. There are camps all over. When the girls go to volleyball camp, they’re not just going there for skills it’s for exposure. That’s where other colleges will come and say, you had this camp did you see any talent you thought we could use or I’m looking for this or that next year. Baseball camps. Basketball camps. Down in Wichita, Kenny Collins is trying to form a homeschool athletic association so that scouts can come to him and ask what do you have, and he can tell them we have this tournament you can come and watch them there. Another avenue that I don’t think has been explored is sportscasters. Have a few sportscasters come and see our games. If your child is exceptionally talented ask how can you help us get this word out. The athletic network is a very closed old boy network. Once you get a foot in the door, you get known. This is what has happened out at the military base. They have taken notice of the boys. Have you tried this, have you looked at this, what about this possibility, have you tried something here, here’s a name contact them and see what they can do. It has to be done by the parent, it can’t possibly be the coach or athletic director. They don’t have the time or the determination to sell the child. The parent can do it; it just takes determination which any homeschool mom or dad has anyway.

I know that you hold a sports banquet at the end of the season. Why is that important to your program?

It ties together all the loose ends. It gives the team a sense of cohesiveness. It always amazes me the large attendance we have. And how much the kids look forward to it. I didn’t think it would be a big deal. I just thought it would be something nice to do, because other schools do sports banquets so why don’t we do one. It’s really a big thing. Even to get the little pieces of paper, who knows what happens to the certificates. It gives them a sense of closure. This year when we had so many seniors graduating it gives them a sense of passage, of passing the team on. It gives the coaches a chance to thank the parents. It gives me an opportunity to thank them. I’d be lying if I didn’t say I liked the thank you's I get, that’s nice too.

What’s the most important thing a new athletic director should do?

Marry the right man. (Laughing.) It takes a tremendous amount of time. Without Wendell I wouldn’t be doing it. There’s a lot of commitment. I have to go to all the games, because I have kids in all the games. But even if I didn’t have somebody playing, I think I would want to be there to make sure that it’s running smoothly and if there are any problems I’m there rather than hear about it second hand. I hate second hand information.

I guess to answer your question, she should have her house in order, she should have a strong marriage and she should have large shoulders.

If you had it to do all over again would you do anything differently?

I don’t know. Each year went quite well. I can’t think of doing things differently. There’s always areas for improvement, but as far as doing it differently from what we have done, I don’t think I would. Would I have done it if I had known it was going to be a many years commitment instead of a few months. I don’t know. I started homeschooling thinking one year at a time and it’s been 14 years now. I probably would have just jumped in anyway. It’s been good. It’s been fun.

I love all the kids even the ones that drive me nuts. They’re all very special. They’re very unique. If I had one wish for next year it would be to see more of the girls’ basketball families stay for the boys’ game. It knits them all together. I think the girls learn by watching the boys and they can cheer them on. It’s their team, their homeschool team. It almost breaks my heart to see them all leave right after the game instead of sticking around and watch the boys play. You can really have fun watching the boys play.

Thank you Donna for sharing your experiences with us.

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