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December 28, 2010

Game time

Athletes at smaller schools face off in their own sports league.

Folded up cafeteria tables, church pews and three-tiered aluminum bleachers line the boundaries of the basketball court in the gymnasium/cafeteria at Back Creek Christian Academy. With a concession stand window close to one of the court’s baselines, a player making an inbound pass could easily call timeout and turn around to purchase a drink and a snack in a matter of seconds. Still, this small, multi-purpose facility – not uncommon for schools of Back Creek’s size and status – gives its students a place to play competitively against other schools. And it’s the well-organized structure of the Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association that provides that opportunity. The association, around for more than a decade, gives middle schoolers at smaller private, independent, charter and parochial schools a chance to play ball – from basketball to volleyball to soccer, and more. Other sports include cross-country, golf, tennis and baseball. The league is made up of 12 schools supporting 10 competitive sports at the middle-school level. Some teams are co-ed. UCity’s Back Creek, Carolina International School and Countryside Montessori School are all association members. UCity students who attend other schools also participate in the conference, including students from Metrolina Regional Scholars Academy, a charter school formerly in the area that’s now located south of uptown Charlotte. The CGAA was already established when athletic director Nick Nichols started at Countryside Montessori 12 years ago. “Our whole purpose is to create an arena where the playing field is as even as possible,” Nichols says. “We have a gentleman’s agreement (between schools) that we don’t roll over anybody.” The association has a handful of guidelines for membership, including a requirement that schools have approximately 100 students enrolled in the seventh and eighth grades. Participating schools must also be able to field athletic teams in at least four sanctioned sports, and provide proper playing facilities. Within this framework, the association makes accommodations to support its schools’ efforts to reach its guidelines. That’s why some of the sports the league offers are co-ed, such as soccer, tennis, and golf. Another CGAA accommodation is allowing a school to play a home game at another school’s facility if it doesn’t have its own field, court, or course. Some schools lacking a proper playing surface partner with other entities. Countryside Montessori, for example, does not have an on-campus soccer field, so it plays home games at Mallard Creek Park. Carolina International plays its home basketball games at the Simmons YMCA and baseball games at Harrisburg Elementary. Member schools face other challenges as well. Car-pooling is a main source of transportation to and from games. Athletes pay a nominal participation fee to cover sports programs’ operation expenses. The number of schools in the CGAA has fluctuated over the years as members’ competitive interests have wavered and enrollment numbers have changed. In some cases, new members have been newly created schools, or existing schools that created or expanded their athletic programs. Back Creek Christian Academy is one of the association’s newer members. With approximately 60 students in grades 6-8, it’s also one of the league’s smallest. The school offers cross country and co-ed soccer in the fall and boys and girls basketball in the winter. Athletic director Matthew Pierce says the athletic program is growing and the school’s long-term plan is to offer at least two sports per season, including in the spring. “We actually get pretty large crowds for our size school,” says Grady Stewart, a Back Creek eighth-grade basketball player. “There’s usually a pretty large turnout between the parents and kids, and the kids enjoy watching.” The girls basketball team at Back Creek recently had a rebirth. After several years of dormancy, it played its first game back in November. The Bobcats were on the wrong side of a lopsided loss, but the crowd erupted when Keyanah Richardson scored the team’s first points near the end of the first half. A lot of times Back Creek can’t hang with the larger, more advanced teams in the CGAA. But the league also has a safety measure in place so that lower-achieving teams can still have reason to feel good about themselves at the end of the season. In sports with season-ending tournaments, the number of teams participating is split into two divisions based on win-loss records. Each division plays its own tournament so that two champions are crowned. “We all like the format because it evens the playing field,” said Nichols. “I would say the most important thing to us is to not to crush our smaller schools. And our bigger schools are an advocate of that.”

More info: These UCity schools offer a variety of sports through the Charlotte Gastonia Athletic Association:

Back Creek Christian Academy 1827 Back Creek Church Road, Charlotte Sports offered: Boys cross-country, girls cross-country, co-ed soccer, boys basketball and girls basketball.

Carolina International School 8810 Hickory Ridge Road, Harrisburg Sports offered: Girls volleyball, co-ed soccer, boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball, co-ed golf and co-ed tennis.

Countryside Montessori 4125 Johnston Oehler Road, Charlotte and 9026 Mallard Creek Road, Charlotte Sports offered: Co-ed soccer, girls volleyball, boys cross-country, girls cross-country, boys basketball, girls basketball, co-ed tennis and co-ed golf.

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