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Growth, hiccups
KCS athletics still thinking big despite cancellation of high school, middle school football

If the plan of Knoxville Christian School's previous president and athletic director was to hike enrollment by developing it sports programs, not knowing TSSAA rules would derail the attempt.

A new president and athletic director are looking to pick up the pieces of a football program that fell apart due to TSSAA rules rendering KCS's home-school athletes ineligible, leaving it with too few players to field either a high school or middle school football team this season.

“I don't think they did anything malicious, I definitely don't think there was anything dishonest,” Watkins said of past KCS president Matt Amos and ex-athletic director Brad Burkett. “I just don't think they investigated it enough.”

After having a complete 2011 schedule in place as a member of TSSAA District 3-A, Watkins had to call all 10 schools and tell them KCS couldn't fulfill its schedule.

Watkins said he discovered, soon after taking over as AD last winter, that TSSAA legislation passed in December 2010 stipulated all home-schooled students representing a private school athletically, such as KCS, must meet full tuition requirements just as regular private school students.

They also are required to live within a 20-mile radius of the school, said Matthew Gillespie, assistant executive director for TSSAA.

Home-schooled athletes considered to be affiated with KCS by the previous administrration had not met full tuition requirements, Watkins said.

David Roland, vice chairman for KCS Board of Directors, said, “That was a big blow to us, because most of the kids we were relying on for that football program were home-schoolers.”

Public schools can charge up to a $300 fee per sport played by a home-schooled athlete, Gillespie said.

Prior to December’s legislation, home-schooled athletes were only allowed to participate in TSSAA by forming home-schooled teams, Gillespie said.

Roland said KCS’s entire K-12 enrollment during the 2010-11 school year was 167 — 68 in high school.

Watkins said it was “definitely uncomfortable” early this year calling District 3-A schools telling them the Knights weren't having a 2011 football team.

As for this possibly hurting the school's reputation, “I absolutely worry about that,” Watkins said.

However, Watkins said all donors who were on board at the beginning of 2011 are “still on board” for an athletic program still planning to field several high school and middle school teams in 2011-12.

But Watkins said fundraising, “From what I've seen, that's something that we've been lacking ... I think we've got to build the actual fields themselves to have the teams before we can get the donations.”

Roland said, “We're trying to develop our sports programs to help with enrollment.”

Watkins added, “Some people might still say, 'I don't buy the future there.’ The thing we can do is show them we do have the support and we are committed to it financially to get this up and going the correct way.”

High school sports in place for the 2011-12 school year are girls volleyball, girls and boys basketball and track and field. Middle school will have girls and boys basketball, soccer and baseball, Watkins said.

“We're going to offer, hopefully, middle school and high school soccer as well,” Watkins said.

KCS will not compete in District 3-A this school year, though Watkins noted he “scheduled a couple of our district opponents … just to get relationships built and to start getting our girls used to what they'll have to compete with.”

As for middle school football, “This year we decided to take a break and not have a program and really analyze what we've got and what we need,” Watkins said. “We hope to get that as a long-term goal, and get it started off in the right way.

“I think there is a future for football,” he added. “I think what we need to do is build more of a youth program and develop a middle school program, that lets that feed into a kind of JV situation in high school. And then have varsity football.”

“But right now, I think realistically having a good middle school program and possibly a high school JV program is what is our goal would be for 2012. I do think you're looking at 2013 before you really say, 'Let's really try and have a varsity football program in high school.'”

Roland, also coordinating all KCS sports construction work, said it's full speed ahead with a couple of athletic fields, adding money to begin work came from a combo of donations and loans.

As for the football/soccer field, “We're getting ready to replace all the surface on it, put in an irrigation system, and we're going to put a track all the way around the outside edge,” Roland said. “We'll have enough kids interested in track to field a track team.”

As for the baseball/softball field, “It will all be sodded out and have an irrigation system,” Roland said. “We have the financing in hand right now to cover the baseball field,” adding financing was in hand by early July to cover work on the football/soccer field.

“And the town of Farragut has an issue with us putting up any field lights. … We're going to go through a process with them of trying to get the wording changed in the lighting ordinance,” Roland added.


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