Homeschool advantage

Rochester Defenders seniors, front row: Isaiah Faas, Ryan Lowe, Rachel Hart, and Jaclynn Saunders. Standing Ruthie Grove, Zach Parlier, Keiser Wurgler, Abby Rudlong, Elias Rossdahl and Ben Cole. The Defenders play in the Christian Athletic League and also play a lot of teams in the SE Conference.

As a kid, Rachel Hart didn't want anything to do with basketball.

Hate would be too strong of a word, but you get the idea. "I begged my parents not to play,'' she said.

That did no good. Kicking and screaming, she was eventually forced to play. She was signed up and was soon a member of a sixth-grade team.

"Rachel certainly didn't want to play,'' said Julie Hart, her mother, "but since she was being homeschooled, we needed something for her to do in terms of phys ed.

"And I will have to say, she wasn't happy with our decision. Not at all.''


That was then and this is now.

"After a few practices, I said 'maybe this wasn't so bad,''' Rachel said. "I started to like basketball more and more and now I love it. I thank my parents so much for forcing me to play.

"It's totally worth it.''

Hart is now a senior and plays for the Rochester Defenders, and it's OK to ask, "who are the Defenders?''

The Defenders are a team made up of all Rochester area homeschooled players, both boys and girls.

Who knew?

"We're not here trying to capture any headlines,'' said head coach Steve Cole. "Family and friends show up for our games and that's fine. The other night we had between 150 and 200 at a game at RCTC, and that was great.

"But our emphasis is not so much on wins and losses. We emphasize character development and want to make sure all the kids do well academically.''


The Defenders are members of the seven-school Christian Athletic League (CAL), which includes Cambridge, Christian Life (Farmington), Faith Foreston, Hope Christian (Cottage Grove), Immanuel Lutheran (Mankato) and Valley Christian (St. Croix Falls, Wis.).

The boys are 16-4 overall and 4-1 in conference play, and the girls are 13-4 overall and 5-0 in conference. They are shooting for their fourth straight league championship.

The boys have 11 on the roster (six seniors) and the girls 13, with four seniors.

"We've played some good competition,'' said Cole, now in his fourth year as head coach. "The boys have beaten all six of the teams we have played from the Southeastern Conference. And we still have a game left with Spring Grove (on Feb. 23).''

Spring Grove is 14-4 overall and 13-0 in the SEC.

The late Chuck Hermann was instrumental in starting the Defender boys program 18 years ago. The girls have been in existence for 10 years.

The Defenders usually practice twice per week, on Mondays and Thursdays, with games on Friday night. Home games are played at RCTC, but they've practiced all over the city, at RCTC, Rochester Athletic Club and several local churches.

"The players must pay a fee to play, just like the public schools,'' said Cole, "but we also have to raise money for travel expenses and referees, things like that.''


Cole has been with the program for six years, starting on the junior-varsity level. His son, Ryan, is a senior and will soon crack the 1,000-point career barrier while his daughter, Zephra, is a junior.

The Defenders also play volleyball and have a cross country team.

"Our main focus is creating something positive,'' said Cole. "Kids make mistakes, we all do, but that doesn't mean you have to harp on them.

"As a coach, I would classify myself more in the Tony Dungy mode. And certainly not like Jim Harbaugh.''

Hart recently scored her 1,000th point and will continue playing next year at Northwestern College in St. Paul, with a possible major in social work.

Not bad for someone who once didn't want anything to do with basketball.

"Do I wish I was playing in a public school? I guess it would mean exposure but no I really don't,'' she said. "For me, I got the better end of the deal.

"I love playing with my teammates, they are my closest friends. We all have the same goal in mind, having fun and also to honor God when we do.


"I wouldn't change a thing.''

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