Zephyrhills Christian principal and football coach Mike Smith said the school will offer football and basketball this fall through the FHSAA and plans to add wrestling, baseball, softball and track in future years. KYLE LOJACONO
BY KYLE LOJACONO Tribune correspondent
Published: June 25, 2013
ZEPHYRHILLS - Zephyrhills Christian Academy will join the Florida High School Athletic Association this fall for the first time since the school's opening in 1998.
Mike Smith, the school's founder and principal, said the move allows students additional sports options while competing in the state's large athletic association.
"This is huge because I know that there are a lot of people who won't come to our school because we don't offer sports through the FHSAA," Smith said. "We want to expand the sports because we're looking at adding another wing onto the school, which will let us add about 150 to 200 students. We feel like the FHSAA is a big step for us to help attract more students."
The Warriors have competed in various Christian-based sports leagues, including the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools (FCAPPS) for the past 10 years.
Smith said they will offer middle school football and boys and girls basketball through the FHSAA in the fall. The school plans to add high school football and wrestling in the 2014-15 school year, along with baseball, softball and track, once facilities can be secured or built.
"We've got a pretty good group of athletes from Wesley Chapel, Dade City and Zephyrhills, but now I think this is going to let us reach out further west and draw some kids from Central Pasco, too," Smith said.
Zephyrhills Christian will have to wait at least two years before it can hang any championship banners or compete for postseason berths. During this provisional period, FHSAA representatives will visit the East Pasco County school to determine if the Warriors will become full members in 2015-16.
Smith said they considered joining the FHSAA about four years ago, but at that time had several juniors and seniors on the football team.
"I didn't think it would be fair for those kids because we had a really good team that ended up winning a state championship in six-man football," he said. "Now, most of our athletes are a lot younger, so they'll be able to play after the two years."
The football team, which went undefeated last year against middle school and junior varsity programs, will play a mixed schedule of 11- and seven-man contests this fall.
"It's really exciting," said Javan, Smith's son and the Warriors' quarterback. "It's going to be a huge upgrade with the teams we'll get to play. It's going to be harder, but we want to just go out there and win and show what we can do."
Mike Smith said they're a few weeks away from completing the school's first weight room.
"We're planning on going full scale so the kids have all the same things just like every other school," Smith said.
Javan, a seventh-grader, can hardly contain his excitement.
"In two years, we realize we're all still going to be together and we can play for championships against all those other schools," Javan said. "There's no doubt about it because we have really good athletes. If we can stick together we'll win championships."
Tribune correspondent Kyle LoJacono can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org and follow him on Twitter @Kyle_LoJacono.