Eagle Sports provides football home

Ben Jessee's options were limited.

As a 14-year-old, the North Augustan wanted to continue playing football. But as a home school student, he needed a team.

He was too old to play recreation football. The Georgia High School Association and the South Carolina High School League, along with the private school organizations in Georgia and South Carolina, do not allow home school students to participate in athletics.

So when Jessee heard about Eagle Sports of Augusta, he jumped at the chance to continue his gridiron days.

"My friends told me there was a football team," said Jessee, a sophomore who plays center and defensive end. "I just love coming out here every day and competing."

Eagle Sports of Augusta is the lone athletic organization in the area for home school students who are high school age. Incorporated in 2000, Eagle Sports has seen a growth in sports participation in recent years.

Three years ago, it began offering eight-man football. Last year, there were 11 players. This year, the roster increased to 19.

According to the CSRA Home Education Association, there are between 300 and 400 home school families. In Georgia and South Carolina, there are a handful of home school football leagues scattered about.

Eagle Sports began when Jayne Crown's oldest son, Luke, wanted an opportunity to play middle school football. A local private school originally told the home school student that he would be allowed to play, but just before the season began Luke was denied.

So Crown started Eagle Sports, which began with an ad in a home school newsletter inquiring about interest in forming a basketball team. Eleven boys and one girl came out for the initial squad.

Eagle Sports continued to grow with basketball on the middle school, junior varsity and varsity levels. Then, cheerleading was added, along with soccer, baseball and volleyball. Then, football began.

Players pay $300 to play football, along with a $25 registration fee. The money covers costs for items such as facilities, referees and uniforms.

"It's a viable program," said Crown, the chief executive officer of Eagle Sports. "The coaches, they have a passion for the sport. And it attracts a better quality of kid."

Chris Bradley, a home school graduate, volunteers as head coach. The 26-year-old wide receiver for the semi-professional Georgia Pirates has four assistants helping coach the team.

"Football is football to me," he said. "It's the same. It's just fewer players."

Unlike high school or private school football, the Eagles have no current home. They practice wherever there is an open field. Recently, they have worked at Blanchard Woods Park in Evans.

Practices usually start at 6 p.m., shortly after Bradley gets off work from his job in the retail industry. The practices typically run for about two hours, though there are no restrictions.

While high school and private school teams practice four days a week, the Eagles go just three days. Wednesday nights are open.

"Most of these people are church folk," Crown said. "So we opt out for that."

The Eagles, who play their home games at Eisenhower Park, are 7-2 on the season with one game left; last year, they played a seven-game schedule. The team rents a bus or rides with parents to games throughout Georgia and South Carolina.

The Eagles are bidding for a spot in the Big 8 Conference Bowl Games next month in Florence, S.C.

Aside from a postseason berth, the Eagles are trying to gain respect.

"We get clowned on because we are a home school team," Bradley said. "Just because they're home-schooled doesn't mean they don't have talent. Ninety-five percent of them are very athletic."

For Jessee, it's an opportunity to socialize with others and continue doing what he loves.

"Out here," he said. "it's like family."

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Mon, 04/24/2017 - 18:14