A boys basketball team in Johnson County sporting a 12-1 record and averaging 88.1 points a game won’t be locked into a sectional at the outset
Such is life for Indianapolis Homeschool Wildcats coach Jeremy Bialek, who insists his squad has goals of its own to attain.
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Not affiliated with the Indiana High School Athletic Association, the Wildcats nevertheless play a regular-season schedule dotted with IHSAA members such as Indianapolis Washington, Culver Military, Arlington and Manual.
“We try to model it after the IHSAA, so we play 20 games, play a state tournament and a regional tournament that seeds teams for the national tournament. The top 64 teams in the country play in Springfield, Missouri, for the national title,” said Bialek, an assistant coach for the Perry Meridian boys basketball program from 1995-2000.
“We don’t want to not be part of
the national tournament. We wouldn’t want to sacrifice that. We just want
to play as many (IHSAA) teams as
Though the Wildcats carry “Indianapolis” in their title, the program is based in Greenwood, with The Gathering Place hosting practices and home games.
The Wildcats, according to Bialek, are able to draw home-schooled basketball talent from no more than 99 miles from The Gathering Place to fill their 12-player roster.
Nearly half the players live in Johnson County, Greenwood examples being 6-foot-3 senior forward Tommy Mangan, 5-11 junior guard Aaron Gilmer and 5-11 sophomore guard Carter Hughes. John Owen, a 6-2 senior guard, lives in Franklin, while 6-6 junior post Seth Armstrong hails from Nineveh.
At the opposite end of the geographical spectrum are junior twins Noah and Josiah Oetjen, 6-2 forwards whose family lives in McCordsville — 30 miles northeast of Greenwood.
There also exists a Homeschool Wildcats girls basketball team in which eight of its 10 players live in Johnson County. Greenwood resident Lee Taft is the coach, and his eldest daughter, Jae, is a junior guard and leading scorer for a squad off to an 8-8 start.
A pastor at Indianapolis Christian Fellowship, Bialek is immersed in the home-school lifestyle. He and his wife of nearly 13 years, Julie, are parents of eight children — the oldest, 11-year-old Ali, being a cheerleader for the Wildcats’ junior high basketball team.
Ten-year-old Jair Bialek, oldest of the couple’s six sons, currently competes for the Wildcats’ elementary squad.
Coach Bialek admits certain misconceptions shadow his program’s every move and that IHSAA member schools are often hesitant to schedule the Wildcats.
“It can be a no-win situation for them. The perception of what home-school basketball is can be high school dropouts and that there is no discipline. That they’re just pseudo-students,” Bialek said.
“I can tell you as someone who was in public schools for many years that the parents are very involved. I’ve had parents pull kids off the team for a couple of games for getting a ‘C’ as a midterm grade.”
Those who suit up for the boys Wildcats can’t imagine playing for any other program.
“Playing for this team is great in many areas. Coach Bialek is a great mentor and just getting a chance to know other guys who have an appreciation for the game,” said Mangan, who averages 8.7 points a contest entering Friday night’s home game against the Northwest Warriors.
“We do get a kick out of beating the IHSAA schools and showing people we can play sports, too,” Gilmer added. “I like the fact we have the opportunity to go up against good competition.”
As a Christian, Hughes feels fortunate to have Bialek as his coach.
“The guys are great to hang out with, and our coach helps us be better at what we do,” Hughes said. “He definitely cares about us. Not just for our basketball abilities, but with our spiritual lives. It’s nice to have a coach with the same beliefs as me.”
The Wildcats’ website, complete with schedules, rosters and coach bios, posts verses as a means of motivation be it from Galatians, Luke, Corinthians, etc.
Its version of the program’s mission statement discusses “teaching home-school boys and girls about character, discipline and fundamental basketball while striving to maximize their God-given talents.”
This makes Bialek the perfect individual at the perfect time.
“It’s hard for me to separate my faith from leading kids. What I tell our guys is I want us to be different in the way we play. How do we treat teammates, opponents and officials,” said Bialek, who took over the program in 2001 and has been to the Elite Eight of Nationals three of the past five seasons.
“(Faith) plays in without a doubt, but ultimately it’s still about getting a round ball into a round basket.”
Upcoming games for the Indianapolis Homeschool Wildcats boys basketball team as it wraps up the regular-season portion of its 2014-15 schedule:
Friday – Northwest Warriors, 8:30 p.m.*
Saturday – St. John’s Warriors (Mich.), 10:30 a.m.*
Jan. 16 – at Winton Woods (Ohio), 7:30 p.m.
Jan. 17 – at Cincinnati Trailblazers, 7:30 p.m.*
Jan. 23 – at Northside Lions, 8:30 p.m.*
* Midwest Christian Homeschool Conference Games