In its eighth year of existence, Southwest Louisiana Homeschool gives local homeschooled students an opportunity to play high school sports. They participate in six sports and compete in the Association of Christian Educators of Louisiana. (Rick Hickman / Special to the American Press)
Last Modified: Monday, February 10, 2014 4:53 PMA bustling gym, cheerleaders and fired up parents heckling referees.
The scene looks pretty much like any other high school basketball game.
But none of the students on the home team go to school together. In fact, none of them “go” to school at all.
Southwest Louisiana Homeschool has been playing sports for eight years as a way for homeschooled students throughout the area to team up so none of them have to miss out on high school athletics.
The team was founded by Bill Wild, who now serves as athletic director for Southwest Louisiana Homeschool. Wild’s kids wanted to play sports and even though homeschool students are allowed to play for their closest public school, it is rare to see.
The Homeschool teams, dubbed the Knights, compete in the Association of Christian Educators of Louisiana (ACEL), which is made up of 31 small private Christian schools and homeschool groups.
LHSAA rules prohibit member schools from playing against non-LHSAA affiliated schools. So the Knights began playing against Christian schools in Lafayette and later joined ACEL. Southwest Louisiana Homeschool travels around the state and sometimes play teams from East Texas, which are also affiliated with ACEL.
When it began playing, the basketball team was made up of nine boys from five families.
Now, the Knights compete in boys and girls basketball at the JV and varsity levels, softball, baseball, co-ed soccer and eight-man football.
“My son was a senior and he wanted to play football,” Wild said. “I told him I’d find a way.”
The small plan to add a new sport worked out well for Wild and the other homeschoolers.
“We started with eight or nine kids that season and ended with 13,” he said. “We were the state runner-up and got to play at (Louisiana-Lafayette’s) Cajun Field, so that was a great experience.”
Young people have come from across the Lake Area to play for Southwest Louisiana Homeschool. Wild said they’ve had student-athletes from the Crowley area, Vinton, Ragley and even near Fairview.
Wild is passionate about his athletic program, but said his main focus remains to be family and faith.
“The sports are lagniappe,” he said. “I’m competitive and like to win as much as the next guy, but that’s not just what we’re here for.”
But without an attachment to a physical school, the team runs into difficulties.
“We have no paid coaches,” Wild, a rice farmer by trade, said. “These are volunteers who are willing to try, to work and to sacrifice a lot of time. Some non-parent volunteers coach who have kids that aren’t even old enough to play yet.”
No school campus also makes it difficult to find spaces for practice and games. The Knights basketball teams get to practice twice, sometimes three times a week if they’re lucky. Between job restraints, getting kids from across the area in town, other obligations and locking down a gym time, scheduling practices can prove challenging.
The Knights played at Moss Bluff Bible Church for six years and Living Word Christian Center last year before moving to First Baptist this season.
Despite not attending classes together, the teammates have a bond that is often familial.
“The teams have bonded together,” said varsity boys basketball coach Aaron Soileau. “You’ve got a lot of siblings on these teams. Typically, all of my guys are here by the start of the first game. I don’t make them be here until an hour before our game, but they’re always here watching their brothers and sisters play.”
The homeschool association also schedules other extracurricular activities, such as dances, and many students participate in 4-H.
Wild said the growth of the program has mostly come through word of mouth.
“Anytime you have something that works, people start to talk about it and they want to get involved,” he said.
Soileau said he knows there is still room for more expansion.
“There are other homeschoolers out there that we know we’d like to get here to play,” he said. “We’re almost to the point where we might have to start holding tryouts. We’re limiting to 12 guys, and we actually had to turn away a couple people that called late this year. But that’s a good thing, because it means we’re growing.”
While the quality of play in the homeschool leagues isn’t set to compete with the state’s elite, it’s nothing to scoff at, either.
Last month, the Knights traveled to Houston to play in a Homeschool tournament in which they played the nation’s eighth-ranked basketball recruit, Justin Jackson. Jackson, a McDonald’s All-American, has committed to play college ball at North Carolina.
Southwest Louisiana Homeschool has sent one player to the next level, when they had a basketball player move on to a junior college in Oklahoma.
“Over the years, this team and other teams have had enough talent where I think we could go compete with some of the smaller schools,” Soileau said.
But the Knights aren’t interested in other leagues.
They’re focused on working to improve theirs and offer an opportunity for local students who may not get a chance to play high school sports otherwise.
“Homeschool is not easy,” Wild said. “It’s a lot of time and work. It’s definitely not a cakewalk. But we are well-supported by parents and our families.”