The McGee Community Center was abuzz with activity this weekend as homeschool basketball players throughout the state played highly competitive basketball and shattered stereotypes.
During the weekend, seven state homeschool organizations, with about 400 players and their families, competed for state titles in seven age divisions with the finals drawing standing-room-only crowds.
And homeschool basketball is not what you may think it is. It’s not beginning or ‘D” level basketball.
“When I became involved last year, I really didn’t know what to expect,” said Scott Coffey, a former standout Conway High golfer who coaches one of the Faulkner Falcons teams. “I was amazed at the athleticism and level of competition that exists within these Arkansas homeschool organizations. When I first started coaching last year, I thought it was mom-and-pop stuff. The first game I saw quality and plenty of talent. It wasn’t what I expected.”
People choose to homeschool for variety of reasons: religious, youngsters witha slight disability who need special attention, convenience and efficiency or parents with educational degrees wanting to scratch a teaching itch and instruct their children. There is a homeschool network throughout the United States and organizations in various parts of Arkansas have networked and formed a competitive organization for athletics.
“It’s not backyard ball,” said Joey Mayo of Conway, tournament director.
Mayo got involved several years ago with some of his sons’ cousins had good homeschool experiences and his wife, a middle school teacher, had a desire to teach her children. His older son, Michael, played homeschool basketball and went on the star with Central Baptist College, which has two former homeschool players on its current girls team.
“These kids are highly motivated to play sports and they want to interact with other players and be part of a program,” said Joey Mayo. “It an experience of being part of a program bigger than themselves and learning to be part of a team.”
Coffey’s girls, formerly students at Conway Christian, asked to be homeschooled because they thought it would be a more efficient use of time.
“It’s not for everybody, but it has worked out well for us,” he said. “They have plenty of social life. They start school at 8:30 a.m. and are through by noon, including homework. Then, they are free to participate in whatever activities they want. And this year at the dinner table, we haven’t had one discussion about school.”
Practice for the Conway teams is at 6:30 a.m. or at night. They primarily play at CBC or Hendrix.
“We are blessed to have good facilities here who work with us,” said Mayo. “A lot of teams in the state just have to play whereever they can find. And the McGee Center is perfect for hosting a state tournament.”
Most of the players have played on various AAU teams and are playing for the fun of competition. Mayo points out that the No. 1 men’s recruit by the University of North Carolina is a homeschool player from Houston and the point guard for the No. 1 UConn women, is another former homeschool player from Texas, whose organizations rival some high schools.
“We’re not there yet in this state, but we’re growing,” Mayo said.
The teams are usually coached by volunteers, often a parent or former coach.
Friday, one of the coaches looked familiar. Coaching a team from Jonesboro was Dean Lee, the former athletic director at Arkansas State.
“Last year, we didn’t have enough on our team to go to nationals and he didn’t either so we merged into a Team USA team for nationals,” Coffey said. “The girls from the two didn’t know each other but we had a blast. Now, they’re like sisters.”
(Sports columnist David McCollum can be reached at 501-505-1235 or firstname.lastname@example.org or follow him on twitter @dmaclcd)