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VIDEO: CSRA Crusaders baseball team offers home-school students an extracurricular opportunity.
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Members of the CSRA Crusaders baseball team watch as Kip Custer takes his turn at bat during practice. The team is made up of home-schooled students and students from private schools not having sports programs.  Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Jackie Ricciardi/Staff
Members of the CSRA Crusaders baseball team watch as Kip Custer takes his turn at bat during practice. The team is made up of home-schooled students and students from private schools not having sports programs.

When home-schooler Grace Burton, of Aiken, goes to All-County band, she fields a lot of curious questions about her education.

"They kind of think you get up at 10 and do schoolwork in your pajamas," said Grace. The 14-year-old freshman insists that is not the case.

Though being home-schooled offers the convenience of band practice earlier in the day, she still logs the same hours on her instrument, if not more, she says.

For students who attend class at home, the opportunity for traditional high school activities offered at public schools, such as band and team sports, hasn't always been there.

Grace's mother, Miriam Burton, who home-schooled all three of her children, is a member of Aiken Area Home Educators, a support group for home-school families. She says the organization has more than 100 families in the Aiken area.

The band, she said, serves as another way for the home-schooled students to network.

For the sports-oriented home-schooled students, there's the CSRA Crusaders baseball team.

Home-school band

Grace is a member of the AAA Band, made up of home-schooled students and students from private schools without band programs. Musicians in the Aiken-based program don't march, but they do compete and perform.

Trumpet player Grace is also a member of the prestigious South Carolina All-State band.

The AAA band is smaller than the public or private school bands they compete against at the festival, she said, but they do well. They scored out as excellent in competition last year, one step down from superior, the highest of the four grades.

Band director Barbara Rollins says she started the band five years ago after teaching private lessons to a few home-school students in North Augusta. Since its inception, the band has grown to 50 members and includes side ensembles such as a jazz band.

"There was a need to be met; they didn't have an opportunity to learn a band instrument," she said.

The opportunity for home-schooled students to compete in the solo, ensemble and band festivals that are traditionally attended exclusively by public and private schools was opened four years ago, which has changed home-school band, Mrs. Rollins said.

As with the public and private school bands they compete against, members must compete for seats, and older members must serve as examples.

"Being in band is just a special opportunity for everyone," Mrs. Rollins said.

The home team

Another extracurricular home-schooling opportunity is the CSRA Crusaders baseball team. The group, which plays at Masters City Little League Park in south Augusta, has been active about five years and has 30 players, enough for a junior varsity and a varsity team.

Like the band, the team has both home-schooled students and students from private schools without sports programs. It draws members from as far away as the towns of Stapleton and Matthews, Ga., said assistant coach Larry Olive.

"We have boys that come from all over because there's just no other place to play," he said.

The team is the only one of its kind in the Augusta area, but Atlanta has four teams in the Homeschool World Series Association. The Crusaders also play private schools in the Augusta area.

Senior player and captain Jake Smith, of North Augusta, has played with the team for five years and will attend Darton College in Albany, Ga., next year to play ball.

He said being on the home-schooled team has given him more opportunities because of the head coach, Chileno Valdez.

Coach Valdez said he focuses on getting them exposure. He has a few Crusaders and public school players he gives private lessons to on a showcase team that he takes to colleges.

"What I bring to the table is baseball and getting them ready for the next level," he said.

The underdogs

As a home-schooled team, it gets stereotyped as the underdog.

"A lot of people used to underestimate us," Jake said. "We got rid of that after summer ball."

Jake's mother, Angie Smith, said rules require more paperwork for home-schooled students than is required of students from public schools to qualify for college baseball play.

The team and its family members have to pitch in to keep up the field, too.

"Everyone has a job here, and everyone does something to help the team -- otherwise, it wouldn't get done," Mrs. Smith said.

The environment is a Christian one, coach Olive said.

"If someone gets hurt, they'll circle up and pray right there," he said.

As with any other team, the teammates are close.

As Derrick Benjamin, a junior who attends Evans Christian Academy puts it, being on the team and being at school together isn't any different.

"We practice all the time, so it seems like we're all together all the time anyway."

Reach Sarah Day Owen at (706) 823-3223 or sarah.owen@augustachronicle.com.

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