The Fort Scott Tribune
In an age where some high school coaches are hired and fired based on win-loss records alone, a small Christian school in Fort Scott has proven that a campus can have a strong sports program -- even when winning isn't the most important objective.
Christian Learning Center, which has an enrollment (junior high and high school combined) of just 22 students and a kindergarten through 12th grade enrollment of 66, still manages to field a girls' volleyball team and a boys' flag football team in the fall, as well as boys and girls' basketball in the winter and girls' softball in the spring.
"Our volleyball team is every girl in eighth through 12th grade except for one and that one girl chooses to play basketball. We also have one of the volleyball girls that doesn't play basketball," CLC Principal James Stark said.
"We have fewer numbers to choose from, so we have to work with and train the talent that we have, which is a challenge, but the blessing is any kid who wants to take part in a sport can. We don't have tryouts; anybody who wants to take part can and we just work to train them and teach them the fundamentals."
Because of the small enrollment numbers, CLC has had to be selective in the sports it chooses to compete in.
CLC is part of the MO-KAN Conference, an eight-team league of Christian schools in Kansas and Missouri.
"The conference also has boys' soccer in the fall. Right now we don't have enough boys for a soccer team, but we do have flag football, because it requires less numbers. We play either six or seven players, depending on the schools," Stark said. "That's why we created the flag football, because we didn't have enough kids for full contact football or soccer, so this gives them a sports season while the girls have their fall volleyball season."
The parents and the students also work as a team to make the Mustangs sports program at CLC a reality. While many public schools perform exhaustive searches to find a suitable coach, CLC looks a little closer to home for its coaches.
"Our coaches are volunteers. They are primarily parents who have a love for the sport who pitch in and help out," Stark said. "It's all volunteer-based. Our sports budget is basically fuel to get to the games. Our uniforms are even donated from families, so it's really an opportunity for everybody to get involved, contribute and help the kids learn and grow while enjoying that success. We get to be a very close part of it."
High school age students also help coach the younger kids, as was the case last Tuesday when the older boys helped coach a junior high flag football scrimmage -- before their own varsity game against Chanute Christian Academy.
Stark said CLC's coaches work hard to teach the kids the fundamentals of the game, but also impart to them the fundamentals of teamwork, sportsmanship and how to find a role where they can help their team be successful and contribute.
Coach Todd Bond, father of 10th grade volleyball player Jamie Bond and the team's coach, is one example of the participatory role that parents play in CLC sports.
In addition to being principal of CLC, Stark also coaches boys basketball, junior high girls' volleyball and is co-coach of boys' flag football.
"If we win, great," Stark said. "We teach the kids to give it their best effort no matter what they do and to play to win but that winning isn't the most important thing. There is nothing wrong with giving your best to win as long as you are winning with the right attitude in the right way and playing by the rules and playing fair."
Stark said he believes there are valuable lessons his students can learn from participating in sports and is a strong advocate of all sports at CLC.
"The kids really learn a lot about teamwork, sportsmanship and finding a role that they can play to help their team," Stark said. "Those are life lessons they learn. None of our kids are going to play professional sports, but they can learn a lot of life lessons and that's why we have it."
Among those lessons, Stark hopes the sports programs at CLC also help kids learn to deal with adversity.
"If you are in a pressure situation, if you are challenged, how do you respond to it? It's a great place to practice the skills that make a difference in life and the consequences are you win or lose a game versus the consequences in life that get much greater when you get older," Stark said.
Stark believes sports also may enhance the faith-based agenda at private schools.
"I think that how our students meet challenges is based on their faith," Stark said. "It's based on what their parents have instilled in them in a Christian home and in a Bible-believing church. The Bible teaches us how to handle those situations and how to be successful in those situations, basically relying on the Lord for strength, on the Lord for guidance versus just self."
On Thursday, it was the girls volleyball team that took center stage for CLC as they competed in the eight-team Mokan 2012 Volleyball Tournament at Buck Run Community Center, beating El Dorado (Mo.) Christian High School in the semifinals before losing to Centerplace Restoration School from Independence, Mo., in the championship game.
"This is our second year in the MO-KAN Conference, so this is our second volleyball tournament," Stark said. "They do have a volleyball tournament and a basketball tournament every year."
Last year the Mustangs placed second in the tournament as well.
"It's a great opportunity, " Stark said. "Education is our primary focus, but the sports programs round out the experience and give them the opportunity for school spirit, camaraderie, sportsmanship and being part of something they will remember the rest of their lives."
CLC also plays a regular season schedule of home and away with the other seven teams in the conference.
Other schools in their eight-team conference include Centerplace Restoration School in Independence, Mo., El Dorado (Mo.) Christian High School, Heartland High School of Belton, Mo., Muncie Christian School of Kansas City, Kan., Overland Christian High School of Overland Park, Plaza Heights Christian Academy of Blue Springs, Mo., and Training Center Christian School of Garden City, Mo.
"We play a few non-conference games, but most of our games are within the conference," Stark said.
Stark said many of the visiting teams' fans were impressed with Fort Scott's Buck Run Community Center, site of the conference tournament.
"I would like to personally thank Buck Run and the community that helped provide this facility because they have a phenomenal facility and their cooperation and support is greatly appreciated," Stark said. "All the teams that come from other towns always compliment the facility, the management and the way it's run. We greatly appreciate the opportunity to utilize it. We pay a very affordable fee to be able to use it. None of the other schools has a facility available with two courts and a curtain separating them, so that was a big deciding factor for Fort Scott to get to host it. We appreciate the community support of people coming out to cheer the kids on."