After every practice the Lighthouse Warriors football team gathers for prayer. Each player, heads bowed and eyes closed, are asked if they would like to pray, and while many football players across the country might ask for protection or strength or an immeasurable amount of other things, time after time Warriors coach J.J. Duarte hears the same thing.
“They’re just thankful to have the opportunity to play,” he says.
For home-schooled students, their last time to set foot on a playing field may happen before they even enter high school. For years, the Tebow Act – a law that would allow home-schooled children to play sports for high school teams – has been a point of discussion in Montgomery, but has yet to be passed.
“We’d been praying for the act to pass for years because we knew our son Micah was coming up on the end of his football career if something didn’t happen,” says Lighthouse athletic director Jamie Beard. “We were even prayfully considering placing him in a public school just so he could play.”
But, after a discussion between Beard and Duarte, who was Micah’s youth football coach at the time, the Beard family never had to make that decision after they decided to begin a program of their own – the Lighthouse Warriors, an 8-man football team. Duarte would coach and Beard, also the pastor for Lighthouse Church and Ministries on Hwy 29, would serve as athletic director.
Of course, it wasn’t an easy task and the duo were a tad overwhelmed after visiting Tony Nafe, the athletic director and head football coach for the Hope Christian Eagles in Pelham, who helped with paperwork and guidance.
“We realized we had a lot of obstacles that needed to be overcome in a short amount of time if this was going to work for the 2014 football season,” Beard said.
Just as they had been doing since their first discussion, Beard and Duarte began to pray for God’s direction. After their meeting with Nafe in January, they began to run ads and make Facebook posts encouraging home-schoolers around the area to join their team.
By April, they were practicing.
The team now consists of 14 players from Blount, Etowah, Marshall, St. Clair, and Jefferson counties ranging from seventh graders to juniors.
So far this season, the Warriors are struggling through their schedule, but Duarte says they have potential for upcoming years.
“We’ve got a couple of kids playing for us who could go to any county school and be a star player,” he says.“This is brand new to a lot of these boys. Only three or four have played before, and those have only participated in youth football. But this isn’t only about football. It’s about God. If we win every game but don’t change these players lives, it’s not good.”
Every Thursday, the team has a devotion so the lessons they learn from football can carry over into every day life, Beard says.
“We are a reflection of the church, the community, and God,” he says.“If it’s not about God and if it’s not for God, it’s not worth doing.”
For now, the team is on a probation year and not yet in a conference, but plan to join the Alabama Christian 8- man Conference next year. The team has traveled to Auburn, Montgomery, Tuscaloosa, and even Georgia to play other 8-man teams and have financially managed to do so through selling ads for their football guide, fundraisers, and parent costs. They say they have also been fortunate to receive donations and have been able to use the church van to travel.
To help sponsor the Lighthouse Warriors or for more information on the program, contact Beard at email@example.com or 205-353-1073.