LAND O'LAKES — A true love of basketball is being taught in Land O'Lakes.
A few days a week Bill Bonsall coaches the Lions, a basketball team comprising entirely homeschooled children. Bonsall created the program, in part, to share his love of the game with his sons, 16-year-old John and 11-year-old Mitchell, who now play on the Lions.
"I love the game and I just wanted the chance to coach a group like this," said Bonsall, 50. "The kids can play on school teams but this is less demanding and it's a much cheaper alternative than putting them on a travel team. We've had great support since we started from the parents. The kids have really come together and are learning how to play with each other and be a team, which is what I wanted to see."
The homeschooled program, which has separate boys and girls teams, was going to call itself the Land O'Lakes Lions. But with so many kids coming from the surrounding areas, too, Bonsall opted for just the Lions.
"I've coached at the recreational level but I'm really enjoying this because we're building a team and seeing how they stack up against school teams," Bonsall said. "It's tough because, for example, we played Odessa Christian and they were so much bigger than us. We have an age range on the team of 11 to 16, so skill, size and experience varies. We'd like to have a junior high team and a JV team but we don't have enough firepower on either side of the age spectrum, so right now we have just the one team."
Despite their age differences, the Lions have a strong team chemistry and believe that they can compete with anybody.
"For homeschoolers to have a team like this is great because we can make it organized how we want it and have our own group," said Bonsall's son, John. "We get along really well as a group. We share the ball a lot, which is different than a lot of teams I've played on in the past where one guy takes the ball and does everything. We have a hard time against the JV teams from some of the schools, but I think we're pretty good for having so many different age levels on one team."
Providing the niche community with a team like the Lions for the cost of $125 per season offers the parents a cheaper alternative than putting their children on travel teams that can cost hundreds of dollars.
"The YMCA and other organizations have stopped offering things for kids once they reach a certain age," said Jill Cravens, the mother of two Lions players. "With this, it gives our kids a competitive outlet to play basketball as they get into high school without them having to dedicate their lives to it or have it cost us a fortune. They have a nice sense of community amongst the team and Bill does a great job of making this fun for them."
The Lions play against teams of other homeschooled children and private Christian schools. While homeschooled children are allowed to play on school teams in their area, the rigorous schedule and demand of playing on that level is something that doesn't always fit their family lives. For Sharon Hickson, also a mother of two Lions, playing for Bonsall's team makes more sense because of the two-day-a-week practice schedule.
"My family does a lot of different things other than basketball so we needed to have a sports league that can work with that," Hickson said. "We value this being a regular part of the kids' lives because as home school parents, we try to emphasize physical education, but we also value the fact that the kids aren't required to be at practice five days a week or have to play on a team where they are traveling all over the place all of the time."
Contact David Rice at firstname.lastname@example.org.