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For Greenwood Christian, strength comes in small numbers

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With one of state’s smallest enrollments, numbers aren’t exactly a strength for Greenwood Christian Academy.

Yet the school’s Class A athletics program has found a way to maximize the strength of its numbers.

For the first time since becoming a full-time IHSAA member in 2006-07, Cougars teams won three sectional titles — one each during the fall (boys soccer), winter (boys basketball) and spring (baseball).

Not surprisingly, many of the school’s male athletes played on two, and in some cases all three, teams — partially out of necessity, but mainly because of the school’s emphasis on multisport participation.

One-sport specialization, though allowed, isn’t encouraged at a school that offers boys varsity teams in soccer, basketball, baseball, track and field, cross-country and golf, and girls varsity programs in softball, cross-country, track and field and golf.

“One thing GCA absolutely celebrates is that we have to share athletes and our kids will be able to play, one, two or three sports,” said Doug Hagist,

dean of students and also the head baseball coach. “We almost expect them to play more than one.

“Our kids have won three sectionals this year, and just about everybody was part of more than one.”

Boys basketball coach Jamie Satre not only agrees but insists the crossover can make athletes more well-rounded and perform at a higher level in what they might regard as their best sport.

“It’s good to allow them to do multiple sports. Different sports include skills that can be helpful in the other sports,” Satre said. “For example, baseball requires really good hand-eye coordination, and you see that many good baseball players are also good at basketball. It also helps the school to be able to compete and have enough numbers for its teams.

“The camaraderie is really good, and I also think burnout can be an issue in high school sports. It’s good to have a breather and some variety of being involved in other sports.”

Although none of the school’s girls teams won a sectional title, most of the programs have enjoyed various measures of heightened success in recent years.

Junior Hannah Peters, who competes in volleyball, basketball and softball, said both socially and emotionally, the green light to play three sports is a benefit.

“I’ve made friendships playing on each of the teams so I wouldn’t want to miss any of them,” Peters said. “It would probably burn me out (playing one all year) because I like the variety.”

Senior Gunnar Rastenburg, who played on all three of the boys sectional championship teams, shares the sentiment.

“I look at it as cross-training,” Rastenburg said. “I definitely think it would affect me negatively if I couldn’t do it. You get to do different things and skills, and I like playing each of them.”

Although Greenwood Christian’s enrollment has grown the past 10 years — up from 100 to approximately 230 — its numbers are still small comparatively small. Hagist acknowledged that enrollment can have a positive or negative effect on the fortunes of athletic teams but insisted that that is not the priority when it comes to setting up class size at the school.

“We’ve enjoyed responsibly steady growth,” Hagist said. “Our headmaster (Bruce Peters) will only take what we can house and teach effectively. We’re not going to double our enrollment and all of a sudden we lose what makes our academy special, like the size of classes and the bonding that makes kids feel so at home and part of a family here.”

Hagist added that the school’s Christian devotion is a central aspect to what goes on in its athletic program, regardless of on-field results.

“The idea behind the word Christian is that we conduct ourselves in a different manner, and we hold ourselves to a different standard,” Hagist said. “There’s nothing that says we can’t do that competitively. We certainly don’t have to be anybody’s doormat, but we just need to do everything in the right way.”

Coaches and team members often arrange Bible studies throughout the season, including invitations to opponents in pre- and postgame prayers.

“It’s an ongoing process to always evaluate what competing in the right way does look like,” Satre said. “We try to go back to that. I guess it’s a cliché, ‘What would Jesus do?’ It’s definitely in the center of what we do.”

Peters said maintaining that sense of mission calls for diligence for student-athletes, as well.

“On the court or the field, you’ve definitely got to keep watching that,” she said. “You don’t want to act in a way where someone will think, ‘She’s just being a hypocrite, wearing the name Christian but not acting the way that she should.’

“It’s also a privilege to share what it really means to be a Christian through your actions and to show you can play aggressively and not be any less of a Christian.”

That competitive spirit served the school’s sectional championship teams well this year.

“I think the main thing we had was hard work, just not giving up when you get down,” Rastenburg said. “We’ve lost quite a few games in soccer and baseball, and in basketball we had the talent but couldn’t figure out how to bond and play our best.

“But we kept working and listening to the coaches, and it really paid off this year.”

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