Crews Kay gets some blank looks when he tells others about his basketball team.
“We don’t play public schools, so public school kids are totally confused when I tell them I play in a homeschool league,” the Zionsville resident said.
Kay started playing with the Northwest Warriors teams when he was 11.
“I’ve been with the same group of guys since then, and I love all my teammates and coaches,” said Kay, a senior on the Warriors’ varsity squad. “We work hard and compete hard.”
The hard work is paying off. As of Nov. 30, the varsity team is unbeaten, and it won the Tip Off tournament in Arkansas. Last year, the team finished 30-8 and was 10th in the national rankings before the 2016-17 postseason.
The Warriors’ junior varsity team finished 25-1 last season, reaching the national championship game before losing.
Kay, who has been homeschooled since fourth grade, said the competition is solid at the varsity level.
“Once we get to nationals there is a 64-team bracket,” Kay said. “Around here is pretty good competition, then once we get to regionals and nationals, it’s really tough.”
The Warriors teams practice twice a week at the Whitestown Municipal Complex and play their home games at Traders Point Christian Academy. Among the 51 boys on the five age division teams, nine are from the Zionsville/Whitestown area.
The teams are part of the Indiana Christian Basketball Alliance, the Midwest Christian Homeschool Conference, which includes teams from Ohio, Illinois and Wisconsin, and the National Homeschool Basketball Association. The 28th annual National Homeschool Basketball Championships tournament will be held in March in Springfield, Mo.
The Warriors have teams for 10 and under or 10U, 12U, 14U (junior high), junior varsity and varsity.
The Warrios’ 10U team made its debut this season.
Zionsville resident Rob Thomas is coaching the 12U team, which includes his sons, Asa and Zane.
“We’ve been part of the program for nine years,” said Thomas, who has 11 children. “My wife (Jennie) decided to homeschool the children, and I was concerned there wouldn’t be any sports. We started looking around, and a friend of ours referred us to this program.”
Four of Thomas’ children, two girls and two boys, were adopted from Ethiopia. The two boys play for the Warriors. Jesse, a senior, is on the varsity, and Ben, a freshman, is on the junior varsity.
Thomas’ oldest son, Isaac, now a sophomore at Cedarville (Ohio) University, also played in the league.
Zionsville resident John Penola has two sons, Johnny, 13, and Jacob, 12, who are playing organized basketball for the first time with the Warriors.
“We’ve known about it for awhile,” Penola said. “Jacob played soccer and Johnny played football at Traders Point. But those opportunities tend go away when you get to high school. My wife and I went to Jacob and asked if he wanted to play, and John said he wanted to come, too.”
Johnny is enjoying his first organized basketball experience.
“I like the people on the team and the team aspect,” Johnny said. “I’m still learning the plays. I like to shoot and sort of play around.”
Thirty years of homeschool basketball
The Northwest Sports Club, which was founded by Jack Baumgardner in 1989, is the original homeschool basketball organization in the Indianapolis area.
The club was designed to give homeschooled boys a chance to participate in competitive basketball while developing Christian character and basketball skills. Although the Northwest Sports Club doesn’t have a girls program, there are other homeschool girls basketball programs in the Indianapolis area.
Carmel resident Sam Wood, vice president of the Northwest Sports Club, has two sons in the program.
Wood pointed out there are players from Lafayette to Plainfield to New Castle on the Warriors’ teams. He said the number of homeschool teams are growing in the region, with 125 teams expected for the Midwest Regional at Grand Park.
“The IHSAA makes a compelling point on how sports positively influence the student athlete by instilling key skills such as leadership, teamwork, discipline, trust and a positive work ethic,” Wood said. “While the general acceptance of homeschooling is rapidly changing as more and more families find success in educating their children, the corresponding sports programs have lagged behind. However, this, too, is rapidly changing as programs, such as the Northwest Warriors, are finding success both on and off the court and developing those same key skills into tomorrow’s leaders from Carmel, Zionsville, Westfield and Noblesville.”
The Indianapolis area is home to several homeschool programs, including Indianapolis-based Eastside Golden Eagles, Indianapolis Wildcats and Noblesville-based Northside Lions.
For more, northwestwarriorbasketball.com.