WAKE FOREST — Matt Finneran knew he wanted to home-school his six childen, but the former college athlete didn’t want them to miss out on certain aspects of a more traditional school experience.
“Since I played public school and I played water polo for the University of Southern Cal, I knew as a boy, my boys would want to play these kinds of games, so I didn’t want to take that away from them,” Finneran said, adding that religious reasons led him to home-school his children.
Now head coach of the Raleigh Hawks boys basketball team, composed of area home-schooled children, he helped lead the team to a 48-46 win at Franklin Academy Thursday.
The basketball team is just one of several teams in the Raleigh Hawks organization, and the Hawks are just one local home-school athletic body.
“We started with a swim team in 1997,” Finneran said. “At that time there were almost no home-school sports in Raleigh, so everybody was coming to us asking things. Now it’s pretty much saturated. I think there’s five basketball varsity teams in the area.”
Home-schooled athletics provide an extracurricular outlet similar to traditional schools, but organizing various student schedules can cause issues when it comes to practice time.
“We don’t get to practice like most schools get to practice about four to five times a week, and weight lifting,” said Chris Barnette, 14, an eighth grader on the varsity team who lives in Wake Forest. “All we get really is two times a week at most, and usually the age range is much wider because we’re pulling from 20-25 kids instead of in a school where you can pull from hundreds.”
In addition to playing local private and charter school teams, the Hawks compete in state and national home-school tournaments. An annual tournament at Liberty University in draws east coast home-schooled teams to Lynchburg, Va., each year.
“It’s like regular school tournaments, so it’s cool that home-schoolers are able to do it also,” said Barnette, who has aspirations of playing Division I college basketball.
Finneran’s son Sean helped lead the Hawks to the 2013 North Carolinians for Home Education Athletic Commission state championship in boys basketball. He was named MVP and is currently a point guard for Johnson University in Knoxville, Tenn.
But players know there are challenges for home-schooled athletes who want to play at the next level.
“It’s harder to get recruited,” said Aaron Mullens, 17 of Cedar Grove. “I’m more looking for baseball, but I’m running into the same obstacles. We all pretty much have to walk on. My brother went to D-2 baseball and he got one shot to show what he had when the other kids get ten games to have scouts come out and look for them.”
For now, Isaac Green, 17 of Knightdale, said the team provides a judgement-free environment with guys who live similar lifestyles.
“It’s a place where I can be with a bunch of guys who don’t really care who I am and encourage me and push me to the best of my abilities,” he said.