Lauren Barker and her Columbus Christian teammates are in two different stages of life.

Some are practicing for the driver’s test, while Barker is still too young for a moped.

Seniors Madi Ochs and Hannah Lorimor are preparing for life after graduation, while Barker is busy thinking about the new adventures of middle school.

There are only a handful of things that can connect a 12-year-old girl with teenagers up to six years older than her, and for Barker it is basketball.

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Being asked to join the varsity team as a fifth-grader does not happen every day like it did for Barker a year ago.

Initially, she was afraid of getting embarrassed on the court by the older girls and was uneasy about how they would accept her. Barker’s father Lance challenged her to look at the opportunity as a chance to become a better player while reminding her that the team wants her for a reason. Her concerns were put to rest after just a few days of varsity practice, and she is now in her second season of varsity basketball as a sixth-grader.

“Once I started knowing the girls and playing with them, they were really nice and welcoming to me,” Barker said. “(Joining varsity) has really helped me. When I look back, I’m always thankful that I did it.”

Barker has been bouncing the basketball around for as long as she could walk, but it was not until two years ago when she really got serious about improving her skills. She traveled to Las Vegas with her older brother Blake and witnessed him bring home an AAU National Championship trophy.

Watching her brother spend countless hours practicing in the gym and be rewarded with a national championship caused Lauren to want to work just as hard. Now, two years later, Lauren and her eighth-grade brother are big contributors at Columbus Christian. Laurens lead the girls team in scoring and Blake is the second leading scorer for the boys.

Their father, Indiana Hall of Famer and Columbus North boys assistant coach Lance Barker, said basketball is just in their blood.

Blake joined his first AAU basketball team when he was in third grade, and by then, Lance was already teaching him the pivotal fundamentals of basketball. He spent valuable time with Blake working on his ballhandling skills and shooting form.

“I told Blake early on, ‘If this is what you want to do, then this is what you have to do to be on good teams,’” Lance said. “Blake saw the vision way before my daughter did, and my daughter saw the vision through Blake.”

Blake continues to work diligently in the gym, perfecting his game and now helps his younger sister do the same. Most kids their age love to spend their free time typing away on twitter or playing video games, while Lauren finds herself trying to dribble past her brother during a basketball drill. The time they spend together in the gym is one of the main causes for Blake’s 12.9 scoring average and Lauren’s 8.6 points a game.

“She has always been one of the faster and stronger girls, and she’s been able to use that to her advantage,” Blake said. “Now I’ve been able to help her with the skills and getting some different types of moves down that will help her in her game. Her jump shot is starting to come along. Those different basketball skills that you need, I’ve been able to help her with.”

Lauren said playing varsity basketball has helped improve her dribbling, passing and shooting because her opponents are playing harder defense.

Lance said he believes where his kids’ games have improved the most is in their mental toughness. A few years ago, one missed shot or layup would frustrate them, but now they have learned to mellow their emotions. Lance said the mind is a big part of a player’s overall game.

“Basketball is all about the next play, and that’s what I’ve always told them, Lance said. “That’s what I think has attracted them to basketball. The game happens fast, and the next play is coming fast.”

Blake had an early start to his schooling and was given the chance to catch up physically and mentally when he decided to repeat the eighth grade at Columbus Christian after finishing at Northside. He was always the youngest kid in his class, and at 14, Lance just wanted his son to be in the middle of the pack. Playing varsity at Columbus Christian was not in his initial plans until coach Kevin Roth asked him to move up.

Lauren and Blake are getting a unique opportunity that Indiana High School Athletic Association does not allow. IHSAA schools can only have high school-eligible players on their high school rosters.

Since Columbus Christian is not a member of the IHSAA, the Barkers are free to play varsity. Lauren will be out of elementary next year and will be looking forward to playing middle school ball at Northside while Blake’s high school future is still undecided.

For now, they are both focused on helping the Crusaders be the best teams they can be. The boys are off to an 11-1 start, while the girls, at 0-7, are still looking for their first win.

Blake and Lauren Barker

Name: Blake Barker

School: Columbus Christian

Grade: Eighth

Height: 6-foot

Position: Guard

Key stats: 14.4 ppg, 3.0 rpg, 1.6 apg, 1.4 spg

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Name: Lauren Barker

School: Columbus Christian

Grade: Sixth

Height: 5-foot-2

Position: Guard

Key stats: 7.8 ppg