The seventh and eighth grade boys basketball team at Queensway Christian College in Toronto was “flat out terrible,” one former player recalled to The Toronto Star. Then he showed up, and the team began winning by 40 to 50 points. To find suitable competition, the coach scheduled games against teams from the Canadian city’s large public high schools. And the middle schoolers, led by a gangly eighth grade shooting whiz, kept winning.
Today, after back-to-back NBA Most Valuable Player awards in 2015 and 2016 and three NBA championships with the Golden State Warriors, Stephen Curry is widely regarded as basketball’s all-time greatest 3-point shooter. Not bad for a product of a Christian school sports program. After Queensway, Curry attended high school at Charlotte Christian School in North Carolina, where he played varsity basketball for three years. He met Ayesha, now his wife, at a church youth group in Charlotte. The couple has three children and remains devoted Christians.
The Stephen Currys of the world don’t often walk into a Christian school gym. Many parents can tell less-than-glorious stories of watching their children’s Christian school teams flounder against stronger, better-funded programs. At schools without a significant budget or a sizable student body to field competitive sports teams, lopsided losses are regular occurrences.
In Lakeland, Fla., the Lakeland Christian School girls basketball team has played the roles of underdog and overwhelming favorite. On Jan. 7, the team defeated Excel Christian Academy 54-18. Five weeks earlier, though, they lost to Victory Christian Academy 78-12.
The National Christian Schools Athletic Association’s rankings for girls high school basketball last week placed Portland Christian School in Oregon at No. 1 with an 11-2 record. The No. 3 team had a record of 10-6, and the No. 8 team was 11-1. Lakeland, with a 5-8 record, was ranked No. 6. What factor puts a team with almost twice as many losses as wins above a team with only one loss? Strength of schedule: One of Lakeland’s losses was to a public high school team. The 55-16 defeat, although surely not fun for the losing players, is usually expected when a Christian school faces off against a public school.
Though parents of Christian school athletes sometimes transfer their athletically talented children to public high schools for a better sports experience, some of the best basketball schools in the country are Christian schools. Oak Hill Academy, a Baptist-affiliated boarding school on 420 acres in southwest Virginia, churns out superstars. Former NBA players Jerry Stackhouse and Ron Mercer went there. So did 10-time NBA All-Star and current Portland Trailblazer forward Carmelo Anthony and 2014 NBA Most Valuable Player Kevin Durant of the Brooklyn Nets, who is sidelined this season because of an injury. He played at Oak Hill in his junior year of high school then transferred to Montrose Christian School in Rockville, Md., for his senior season.
And don’t discount homeschoolers. Last year, a former homeschooler broke one of Curry’s records from when he played college ball at Davidson. Antoine Davis, a guard for Detroit Mercy, set the new mark for 3-pointers by a Division I college freshman with 132.
Tyrone Johnson, a successful coach at Christian schools in Alabama and Georgia, where his teams won boys state basketball championships against Christian and public school competition, said that one of the most important factors in creating a successful Christian school sports program is the commitment of the administration. He said, noting that he didn’t mean this as “a criticism,” different schools have different perspectives. For some, sports are important and, therefore, well-funded; for others, they’re not.
Johnson also believes championships and winning records shouldn’t be any Christian school’s ultimate goal for its players: “If they love Jesus with all their heart, mind, and soul, they should play that way.”