Crusaders going as far as they can

Published 8:57 pm Saturday, April 30, 2011

Pitching: First Baptist pitcher Ben Joslin delivers to the plate against Norfolk Christian during a Crusader win on April 16.

“Going to states” is a classic goal of practically every high school athlete.

First Baptist Christian School’s sports teams will grow into reaching that milestone, which is fitting as the Crusader programs are three years or less into playing at a full varsity level.

A state tournament isn’t on deck for First Baptist’s baseball squad this spring though, even as the Crusaders have a 9-2 record going into a game at Isle of Wight Academy on Tuesday and a four-team Seven Cities Athletic Conference Tournament on May 9-10.

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One aspect making it possible for the small private school to field a team keeps the Crusaders out of the Virginia Independent School Athletic Association and any VISAA tournaments. Crusader baseball might not exist yet, and certainly wouldn’t include varsity and junior varsity squads, without opening the program to area home-school kids.

“We have about 50-55 high school students total. It’s just not realistic to fill all the varsity teams we want to include without the home-school kids and their families,” said Joe Cockrell, First Baptist’s athletic director.

The VISAA doesn’t admit a team with home-school players as a member school and it doesn’t count games against such a team as official for a VISAA member.

Eight of the nine Crusader wins this season have come by double-digit margins. The only close victory the Crusaders have had was a 13-11 win against Tidewater Conference school Norfolk Christian.

The current VISAA, Division 3 poll, the division of smallest private schools, includes teams with records of 4-3, 4-4 and 5-7.

State tournament possibility aside, Cockrell wishes First Baptist could’ve had more challenging games on its schedule.

Some usual opponents from past seasons backed out of playing First Baptist because of the VISAA rule for opponents facing a team with home-school players, making a game against the Crusaders effectively a scrimmage for the opponent.

“It’s been a rule on the books but, at least as I’ve heard, a few months ago the VISAA told schools it would be enforcing it better this year,” Cockrell said.

“I understand that,” he said about schools altering plans to play First Baptist. “I definitely have no hard feelings.”

As the school grows, it’s likely including home-school kids in sports programs will drop off. There’s no timeline or plan set — it’s linked more to the expected growth of the school. First Baptist’s already run into such a decision.

“For instance, if we’re looking to have 15 players on a team and we’ve got 18 kids out already, we won’t allow home-school children to play. The (home-school) families understand that, and that’s just the way it needs to be because our First Baptist families have paid tuition already,” Cockrell said.

Cockrell taught and coached in Florida prior to coming to First Baptist. Floridian home-school kids are allowed to play on public school athletic teams.

According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, Florida and 21 more states, but not Virginia, allow “some type of access to classes or sports” for home-school students in their public schools.

As long as First Baptist has room for home-school players, they will be included, said Cockrell.

At the same time, “we’d like to be considered to be in state championships,” Cockrell said.

“Having a competitive athletic program really is a drawing card for people who might want to come to our school,” he said.

For the rest of this season, Crusader baseball will keep growing against the opponents and in the tournaments it does have.