“Do you know of a sports camp where I can take my son? He needs it for a merit badge in Boy Scouts.” This question voiced the need of a home school family and became the inspiration for SPCHEA (South Plains Christian Home Educators Association) Tennis.
I moved my family to Lubbock, Texas, in 1997 for a coaching career change. I had worked in the public schools since 1981, teaching physical education and coaching football, basketball, track, and, occasionally, tennis. With the move to Lubbock, my coaching position dealt with tennis exclusively. I knew how to play tennis but learned a great deal more of the finer details from the varsity tennis coach, Jerry Jerabek. Coach Jerabek would show me how to teach the athletes certain techniques, and then I would come home and teach them to my two older children, Taylor, a seventh grader, and Brittanie, a sixth grader. Garrett, a third grader, who was not about to be left out, joined them, though he could barely see over the net.
Taylor occasionally traveled with me when I took the junior high and junior varsity teams to their competitive matches. Many times the opposing teams were short a competitor, so Taylor would fill the empty spot just to give the athletes on my team a match.
During summer vacation, I began giving tennis lessons to home schooled children. It was toward the middle of the summer when this particular home schooling mom asked about a sports camp for her son. Time was short; the summer sport camp season was nearly over. Being an Eagle Scout myself, I decided to conduct a five-day morning family camp for my tennis students so that this young man could fulfill his merit badge requirement. Twenty-four students and four moms participated. The camp was a tremendous success!
The fall of 1998 gave Brittanie the opportunity to compete as Taylor had the previous year. Both children were enjoying the competition, and I was developing good professional relationships with other coaches in the district. The spring season brought with it a dilemma that many parents face: What does one do with children who want to play team sports?
Taylor was entering high school. He wanted to play competitively on a team, and he still wanted to homeschool. How was this to be achieved? The area private school required at least half-time enrollment to participate in team sports. The time required for transportation to and from school and then practice time, along with the cost of tuition, eliminated team sports as an option for him. I had heard of basketball teams in San Antonio competing against public schools, so I began praying for a tennis team to be able to do the same.
The following summer the family tennis camp almost doubled in size. Several more parents attended as well. With more kids coming to camp, I realized that there might be enough interest for a tennis team, but we were a few players short. We began a seek-and-find mission, with Taylor leading the charge. In September Taylor took flyers about forming a team to the annual SPCHEA Homeschool Jubilee picnic. The Lord blessed his efforts, and he recruited a few more kids interested in playing on a team.
Practices began shortly thereafter. Knowing that sports activities can dominate a family, I held practice only two days a week for about one to two hours. It became a fun time for everyone! The athletes were enthusiastic and supportive of one another. They competed in a few matches that fall, before taking a break during November and December. In the off-season, I sent several letters to local Christian businesses, asking for their financial help. We needed funds for uniforms, tennis balls, travel, and meals. Again, the Lord blessed our efforts with several positive responses. The team took an afternoon and went to the businesses to express their thanks personally for their gifts.
The third week of January 2000 became for the fledgling team the first trial by fire—or ice, as it turned out. It was the first tournament SPCHEA Tennis entered. It was seventeen degrees in Plainview that morning. Players were desperately trying to stay warm in buses and cars. Ice was all around the edges of the courts. But the intrepid SPCHEA athletes fought the elements and a much more experienced opposition, bringing home a consolation singles trophy, and everyone hailed it as a success. Not only did they play their best, these athletes were finding opportunities to fulfill the team motto: Serving Jesus.
SPCHEA Tennis soon decided to host its own tournament. Hosting a tournament would help raise the funds we needed for entry fees to other tournaments. Through my coaching contacts, invitations were sent to the smaller schools in the area. Many coaches asked, “Just what is SPCHEA?” There were enough positive responses for us to host a small tournament. Approximately sixty athletes competed, from six public schools, one private school, and the SPCHEA team. Players fought the springtime West Texas winds, and after the dust had settled, several SPCHEA players had earned trophies for their efforts. The invited schools had positive experiences as well, and our entire team felt a sense of accomplishment in successfully hosting our first tournament.
The Lord continues to bless the team every year. The camps have expanded from one family camp to three different events. The Tennis Adventure (for beginners), held in March, and the Futures Camp (for intermediate to advanced), held in May, have both been added. Current high school SPCHEA tennis players and alumni are instructors for these camps.
As with the original camp, parents are always encouraged to come and learn to play tennis with their children. The Family Camp (all levels) will celebrate its tenth year this summer. The team is now hosting several tournaments. In the spring of 2006, SPCHEA had four high school events and two junior high events. Two high school tournaments set attendance records by having 281 competitors on March 7 and 276 competitors on March 24. The largest junior high tournament brought in 200 entries from area schools.
God is gracious and allows SPCHEA Tennis to be a blessing to many home schooled athletes. The team goals are, first, to be Serving Jesus and then simply to have fun playing tennis. The athletes play to honor their King, and many alumni have returned to help coach the team. In fact, we sent the first home school alumnus to the Texas Tennis Coaches Association clinic this year, and he was able to educate other tennis coaches about home schoolers.
Each year brings new challenges. Who will help coach? How will the team travel to the competitions? Always the Lord has provided beyond our imagination, and I believe He will continue as long as we are Serving Jesus.