When Tulsa homeschool dads approached the subject in 2003, they decided that "if anyone can make it happen in Tulsa, it would be Pastor Joe Blankenship."
"It can't be done!", was Joe's immediate reply. But the persistence of supportive families eventually persuaded Joe to start a junior high squad in 2004.
There was nothing in that first year's game record that would stand out. Only 2 of the 18 kids had even put on pads prior to the Tulsa NOAH Homeschool experience. But the look in those boys' eyes told another story. They knew of the Blankenship family legacy, and when Joe's brother, Bill (then coach of the state 6A champions), came over to encourage the boys, they began to believe in their possibility. And they believed in the coach who led them. By 2008, NOAH had emerged as a top-10 team in statewide media, and blazing new trails for homeschool football.
In studying the past decade of homeschool football, some similarities are evident among the most successful teams. The boys are looking for leaders to emulate. They are needing someone to believe in them and their potential. Years later, my son still sees Joe as a major influence in his spiritual development.
Joe's son, Malachi is currently playing college football at Tulsa University, under coach Bill Blankenship
David found out that he wasn't alone. There were scores of other loving families who delight in their children's opportunities. David created the Springfield Chargers in an atmosphere of family, in his new team venture. He mentored other men to become effective coaches. Years later, my own son would return from weekend trips to the Lohns' home with some great anecdotes of inspiration.
In 2006, David found out his team was banned from playing any teams in his state's athletic league. This setback led the Lighthouse Chargers to take to the road in a very big way. Oklahoma became their unofficial new athletic conference. This required parents to fundamentally change their weekly work and home schedules. But it cemented the commitment of the families to the team vision. Now those same families look forward to a community vacation every year, when they all travel to Panama City for a postseason tournament, plus time on the beach. By 2008, the Chargers were along side the NOAH Jaguars, as a premiere homeschool football leader. (see chart)
David taught the boys that football dreams are only a facet of a boy's life, but like anything a boy does, football must be approached with a commitment to demonstrating character. David's boys eventually played college football. Nate Lohn is currently on the Stanford team. Josh Lohn played at Evangel University.
Tony Dipaola's coaching led his Maryland Saints to a meteoric ascent in football. So did David Lohn's and Joe Blankenship's. They established team ratings which have not been duplicated in more recent seasons. The three men (whom I had the honor of getting to know in different capacities) seemed to know a few things that every coach can learn from.
Here's a list of some of their traits, which translated to success on - and beyond - the football field.
- Believe in your boys. God sees them as having huge potential, and if you can't share God's vision for the boys, then perhaps you aren't ready for coaching.
- Commit yourself to excellence. This means working hard and long. Even if your boys aren't the most athletically talented team in your state, they can be the best conditioned and most thoroughly prepared team. There is a direct correlation between how much a team practices, and how successful their team pursuits will be.
- Reach out. Accept all qualified players who commit to playing for your team. This means finding ways to keep fees low and find transportation solutions. Not all home-educated boys have the same resources, but talent and dreams are found in every economic segment of society.
- Get families involved. You will burn out quickly, if you see yourself as the only person qualified to run the team. Most teams in homeschool football are only doing a portion of the duties which make for a successful program. Very few current teams have any leadership who attend diligently to things like Media Relations, Statisticians, College Preparedness, and Booster Clubs.
- Be fearless. Be eager to schedule games with dominant teams in your region. You can't get great by playing only inferior teams. Sometimes an undefeated season may mean that you didn't give your boys the challenges they were ready to meet.
But mostly, what your coach really appreciates is families who pray for his family, and support the team leadership. If families will do those two things; and occasionally offer assistance with anything else; then everyone's kids can have athletic opportunities beyond what any public school could dream of providing.