By Larry Lamb
Homeschool students in the Houston County area now have an opportunity to play on a basketball team close to home.
The East Texas Archers, based in Lovelady, have already played 21 games during their inaugural season.
“We’re a first-year homeschool boys team with all freshman and sophomore players. These are young kids ranging from age 13 to 16,” explained Jeff Rollo, who co-organized the program with Archers head coach Detrick Watts.
“There’s nothing really in Deep East Texas for homeschool athletes,” said Rollo, noting that his children played for the Aggieland HomeSchool Panthers in College Station several years ago when they were homeschooled. “There are several homeschool teams in the Houston area but we wanted to provide an opportunity for homeschool kids in this area to play basketball without having to travel so far just to practice.”
Playing a mixture of high school varsity teams, private schools and homeschool teams, the Archers have compiled a 10-11 record.
The Archers haven’t backed away from playing powerhouse teams.
The Archers took on the Crockett Bulldogs (6-2), a class 3A UIL squad, on Dec. 31 in the Hopkins Activity Center in Crockett. Although the Archers fell 76-44, Rollo says playing high-caliber teams like Crockett is going to pay off down the road. Two of the Archers’ earlier losses were to defending UIL Class 1A state champion LaPoynor and TAPPS 2A champion Alpha Omega Academy of Huntsville.
After the Crockett game, the Archers fell to class 2A Normangee, 73-48, and then posted back-to-back wins over Aggieland HomeSchool, 67-53, and Still Creek Christian (Bryan), 48-30 .
Earlier this season, the Archers notched impressive tournament wins over two private schools. They knocked off Rosehill Christian (Tomball), the sixth-ranked private school team, 54-46, and Bay Area Christian, 68-55, in back-to-back games. “Those were the two best games that we’ve played but since then we’ve lost about five in a row,” said Rollo.
The Archers’ roster includes Jaedin Watts, Brycen Watts, Kaven Rollo, A.J. Frizzell, Ethan Jones, Trent Goodall, John Sullivan, Shayne Cox, Braden Kovar, Josh Nutt and Levi Smith. Players are from Lovelady as well as Latexo, College Station, Willis, Huntsville, Palestine and Trinity.
“We have some varsity-caliber kids and then we have some that had never played. We have some with one or two years of experience,” said Rollo. “When we first started this we had three players and now we have a total of 11. Most of these kids did not know each other. Now they’re developing team chemistry and camaraderie.”
Rollo explained that National Homeschool Basketball rules specify that students can play on a team if they live within a 100-mile radius, but they must be “true homeschool students” not enrolled in a public or private school.
When the homeschool playoffs begin the Archers will compete in the 16-under division. Playoffs start with the district tournament in Houston, followed by regional in Duncanville, state in Round Rock and nationals in Springfield, Mo.
Without the luxury of a home gym, the Archers are true road warriors.
“We’re always the underdog, the away team. You’re not going to get any calls. You’re not going to get any love. Nobody knows who you are,” said Rollo. “I like to say that we’re homeschooled, but we’re homeless without a home gym.”
Lack of consistency has been the main issue so far.
“We see spurts. We’ve played pretty good basketball at times but it’s about consistency. We don’t have a lot of skilled players that you could put in and out, so you get worn down during a game. It’s all about trying to get better for the future,” he said.
Homeschool teams are not restricted in the number of games they can play so the Archers are planning 45 to 50 games.
“We still have a lot of basketball to be played. These are great kids, very respectful and we’re learning and growing. I explain it as a big brother-little brother situation. Little brother is going to take his licks early but then little brother is going to grow and get stronger. We schedule tough teams because we want a gauging stick. We want to play games that are tough and difficult. It’s only going to make us better,” Rollo said.
Rollo, who coached the Lovelady High School girls program four years, said plans call for the addition of a girls program next year, eventually expanding to more age groups. Rollo will be the girls team head coach and Watts will assist.
“We’re all in it together. We try to bring our knowledge, our passion and our love of the game,” he said.