Home-schooled hoopsters hit the road
Rebecca Reifsnider is a 5-10 junior, a top rebounder and scorer among girls high school basketball players in Frederick County. She wants to play in college, and her coach believes she is good enough.
Yet Reifsnider does not attend high school, public or private.
She plays for the Frederick Warriors, a team of home-schooled students. A better name might be “Road Warriors.” They have no home gym and practice once a week at a local middle school. The Warriors mainly compete against small, Christian, private high schools, most of which practice regularly in their own facilities. Their starting point guard is a seventh-grader, and college recruiters do not attend their games.
As part of an increasing number of home-school sports programs nationwide, the Warriors and a few basketball teams in Maryland and Northern Virginia play varsity schedules against private high schools that enjoy home-court advantages and frequent practices. Home-schooled teams confront limited practice time, extensive travel, scheduling hassles and high fees for facilities, officials and insurance.
“It’s not like you go down to the gym after school to practice,” said Rebecca’s father, John Reifsnider.
On the other hand, he added, “It creates a whole new family. You have all these families you never would have come into contact with.”
Rebecca Reifsnider is one of about 1.5 million home-schooled students in all grades, according to the U.S. Department of Education. She recently scored her 1,000th career point and is steadily improving, according to her coach, Barry Blickenstaff.
“I can say she has as good low post moves and footwork of any kid I’ve ever coached,” said Blickenstaff, a former high school boys basketball coach.
“I have great coaches here and they always push us as hard as they can,” Reifsnider said. “It’d be nice to have more practice time, but I don’t think I’d give that up to play for someone else.”
Reifsnider, whose younger sister, Sarah, is a freshman and a budding star for the Warriors, hopes to gain exposure and refine her game by playing AAU basketball this summer. She works out with a personal trainer, plays pick-up games, often against boys, and has spirited one-on-one battles with Sarah (who is nearly as tall) on the small, concrete slab at their home in Keymar, Md. “We like to challenge each other,” Rebecca said. “It’s very competitive.”
Some home-schooled teams like the Warriors have developed strong programs. Other teams struggle, but all share a common thread.
“They live for basketball,” said Chris Davis, who coaches a girls team in Front Royal, Va., and runs a Web site that serves as a national clearinghouse and information center for home-schooled teams in all sports.
Most of the teams are faith-based, reflecting the families’ Christian beliefs. Many of these students would be attending religious private schools if not for home schooling. Some, like the Reifsnider sisters, used to attend private school. Teammates often go to the same church and play on teams, like the Warriors, that were formed as ministries “to develop godly Christian character,” as team founder Phil Passarelli put it.
He also made sure to add, “We strive to win every game we play. We don’t like losing.”
Despite the obstacles, interscholastic home-school competition is growing, in several sports. The Warriors recently started a boys program. Even football teams, which require many more players, are springing up. In Oklahoma City, the annual National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships host about 300 teams.