Competing against the best homeschooled teams in the nation did not seem probable when the Columbus Hawks Homeschool basketball program first started two seasons ago.

Many of its players across the five different teams had never played basketball on an organized unit before, and it was a rocky first season for the Hawks, who still were trying to learn the fundamentals of the game and play as a cohesive unit.

But something clicked this year. Board members, coaches and parents of all age groups witnessed a shift in the team’s skill level and knowledge of the game after just one season.

“Where we’ve come in the two seasons that we’ve been doing this is quite tremendous,” Hawks board of directors president Jason Dukes said. “They looked like basketball teams by the end of the season. The passing and dribbling looked like real basketball. Last year, we weren’t sure that we’d even get to that point.”

The Hawks have reached a point far beyond just “playing real basketball.” The 14-and-under team is now viewed as one of the best homeschooled teams in the nation after traveling to Springfield, Missouri, and placing second in the Homeschool 2A National Championship.

The change in competitiveness for the Hawks may have come over the course of just one season, but the progress did not happen overnight.

The team went right into summer basketball after last season ended. A portion of the group has been competing almost every week for a year and a half to get to where they are now. Hawks coach Doug Sabotin has been coaching the 14U team since it began and said the biggest difference between this year and last season’s team are the fundamentals, chemistry, basketball IQ and the amount of time spent in the gym.

“We run pretty tough practices, so that helps,” Sabotin said. “These kids work hard, and they deserve all of the credit. To watch them go from being in a position where two to three of our starting five had never played organized basketball to not only competing, but playing in the Class 2A championship is pretty amazing in a year and a half.”

The team ended with an 18-11 record and earned a solid national seeding after placing fifth out of 16 teams earlier in the regional tournament. The 10U team that also traveled to Missouri State College for nationals finished third in the regional. The Hawks had three players named to the All-Region team that got to play in an All-Star game at the national tournament.

Jason and board member Amy Dukes’ son Caleb was named All-Region for the 14U All-Star game, while Ty Ferguson and Doug Sabotin’s son Jacob were named to the 12U All-Region team. Ferguson did not make the trip to Missouri, but Caleb Dukes and Jacob Sabotin got to play with the country’s best homeschoolers during the All-Star games.

“It’s just good to see our hard work paying off, playing as hard as we did,” Caleb Dukes said. “(Jacob) got it for 12U, but he played on the 14U, and he still played as hard as he did in the 12U and was still a really good asset to our team.”

The Columbus Hawks began two years ago when parents in the Columbus area expressed interest in starting a homeschool basketball program after some of the kids played with Greenwood’s Wildcats homeschool team. The program has grown to 45 kids across the 10U, 12U, 14U, 16U boys teams and one girls team.

There are no tryouts or cuts for the Hawks, and it plays an average of about 20 games per season between the five teams. The 14U squad ended its season with a 50-36 loss to the HCYA Warriors from Houston in the national championship. Justin Jackson, who helped North Carolina win the NCAA championship on Monday night, originated from that HCYA Warriors program.

“The team we lost to was a very formidable foe,” Jason Dukes said. “We happened to really compete well, especially given the newness of our program and recognizing where these kids have come from. It was really just amazing. We left there with a smile on our face.”

About the Hawks

Organization: Columbus Hawks

Year founded: 2015

Number of teams: Five

Top finish: The 14-and-under team was the Class 2A Homeschool National runner-up

All-Region Players: Caleb Dukes (14U); Ty Ferguson (12U) and Jacob Sabotin (12U).

Columbus Hawks contact info: www.columbushawksbasketball.com

Author photo
Frank Bonner is a sports writer for The Republic. He can be reached at fbonner@therepublic.com or 812-379-5632.