The way Kevin Roth sees it, Columbus Christian has the best of both worlds when it comes to athletics.
The Crusaders, while not yet an IHSAA-member school, can play IHSAA schools, yet still play teams from far away and compete in national tournaments. They aren’t bound by the IHSAA’s 300-mile travel restrictions or its contest limitations.
For those reasons, along with a lack of sheer numbers of students, Columbus Christian isn’t in a big hurry to join the IHSAA, which would allow it to compete in its postseason tournaments.
“As our enrollment increases, that’s always an option,” said Roth, the school’s athletics director and boys basketball coach. “I want to make sure we’re pretty stable with our numbers rather than going and having to retreat. If we get up there and maintain, that will be an option.”
Columbus Christian has a total K through 12 enrollment of 230. That includes 85 students for grades 7 to 12, and about 50 for Grades 9 to 12. Some of the Crusaders’ varsity sports teams use seventh- and
The school fields soccer and volleyball teams in the fall; boys and girls basketball in the winter and baseball, softball and golf teams in the spring. Although the soccer and golf teams play as boys units, there are girls on the squads.
“I think we’re in good shape,” Roth said. “I like the kids’ participation in wanting to add sports and adventure into other sports. A lot of kids play three sports a year.”
By having at least one boys and girls sport in each of the three seasons, Columbus Christian has taken one step in becoming eligible to join the IHSAA.
Interested schools must also subscribe to all IHSAA rules and regulations, submit an application of the commissioner by Aug. 1 of the year they want to join and pay a $2,000 initiation fee.
Once accepted for membership by the IHSAA executive committee, schools must go through four-year probationary period before their teams can play in postseason tournaments.
During that probationary period, representatives from the school must attend new school orientation and seasonal meetings and undergo some tutelage from one of the assistant commissioners, who would help them along.
Three schools — Indianapolis Lighthouse Charter and Providence Cristo Rey from Indianapolis and Smith Academy for Excellence in Fort Wayne — are new probationary members this year.
They will be eligible to compete in postseason tournaments beginning in the 2017-18 school year.
Benefits of non-membership
As a non-IHSAA school, Columbus Christian has been able to compete in state and national Christian school tournaments. Roth led the boys basketball team to the Indiana Christian State Tournament championship in 2003 and to runner-up finishes in both the ICST and the National Association of Christian Athletes National Tournament in 2012.
Besides playing several IHSAA and non-IHSAA schools each year, the Crusaders have played teams from other states and also from Canada and Australia.
“We have kids that have left this place and went on to play at the next level,” Roth said. “If that’s what student-athletes and parents want, we have those connections with people at the college level.”
Two years ago, Columbus Christian added a girls basketball program. The team went 12-14 last season, with nine of the losses coming against IHSAA schools and three others coming against the ICST runner-up.
While most of the girls’ IHSAA opponents have been Class A schools, the Crusaders played at 3A Owen Valley last season. The Patriots are returning the favor this year by coming to play on Columbus Christian’s brand new wooden floor, which replaced a tile outfit.
“That’s pretty neat to have a 3A school coming to play on our floor,” girls basketball coach Ron Bridgewater said. “The caliber of competition we’re playing is exciting to me.”
“Then you throw in the excitement with the things that have happened with the gym floor, I would say that the momentum for athletic program is building, and I think it’s very exciting and getting stronger all the time, especially when you consider that we don’t have a very big enrollment to choose from,” administrator Kendall Wildey said.
Wildey is also the softball coach at Jennings County and recently took over as pastor at a Baptist church in Jennings County. Bridgewater is pastor at East Columbus Christian Church, which is connected to Columbus Christian School.
“This school, probably because of its size and probably because of the common bond that we share with our faith, it’s a big family, and you get people that come back,” Bridgewater said. “These are lifetime relationships.”