Tulsa home-schooled team takes national in basketball

By Bob Perkey

TULSA, Okla.--The Tulsa Home School Panther Girls, a basketball team of 16- to 18-year-olds that includes four girls from Church of God congregations, emerged as national champions for the third year in a row after winning the National Home School Basketball Tournament the weekend of Feb. 20 in San Antonio, Texas.

Going into the tournament, the girls were seeded as fifth-ranked, even though they had won the national tournament the last two years. Since they were ranked No. 5, the Oklahomans had a much more difficulte schedule on their way to repeating their victory of the previous two years, according to their coach, Dennis Sorenson of Catoosa, Okla.

Mr. Sorenson, not a Church of God member, is a graduate of Oklahoma State University, where he played for OSU's famed coach Henry Iba.

The Tulsa Home School Panther Girls played a total of 39 regular games this season, winning 29 and losing 10. They had played some 5A high-school teams, which is a hard level of competition that prepared them for the national tournament in San Antonio.

The team, sponsored locally by an association of parents of home-schooled children, most of whom are not Church of God members, has four girls--three starters and a first substitute--who are Sabbatarians. (They play full-court, with five girls competing during any particular moment of play.) Three attend the Church of God Tulsa Fellowship, and one attends the United Church of God, an International Association.

Coach Sorenson said the girls' Sabbath-keeping has not been a problem.

"I go into the year with that knowledge [that they keep the Sabbath]," he said, "and I let all the girls know so they have the understanding that some will not be able to play in a Friday-night or Saturday game. It allows other girls to step up and be a starter in these games, giving the team a deeper bench with experience. We just have to have two starting-five teams. We start the best team we can for each game."

The Oklahoma public-school system is unusual in that a basketball team of home-educated girls is allowed, by the state system, to compete with teams from public schools, even in tournaments.

"Surprisingly," continued Mr. Sorenson, "the public-school systems have been more cooperative in changing times of games, which allows the Tulsa Home School Girls to play their regular starting five, than the Christian schools, who were not willing to change any scheduled game times to accommodate the players who keep the Sabbath."

The girls compete in a difficult 18-years-and-under class.

"Home-school girls who play basketball are a rarity," continued Mr. Sorenson. "Girls, however, are more willing to be taught and try to do exactly what their coach tells them [than boys are]. They listen to the coach and are tuned into his voice during a game. They practice on an average of three times a week. Home-school girls who are good are actively recruited by other teams."

Just days before the San Antonio tournament in February, the team had traveled to Dallas, Texas, to compete in a tournament sponsored by a congregation of the United Church of God, an International Association (UCG-AIA). However, tournament organizers would not allow the girls to play as a team.

According to a UCG-AIA pastor, since they were not a United Church of God team and they would probably win the tournament, they could not compete as a unit because it would not be appropriate if a non-United team won. There was some talk about the girls splitting up and playing on four UCG-AIA teams, but they ended up sitting out that tournament.

Does Coach Sorenson think the girls will make it four championships in a row next year?

"We will do everything we can to put our team in a position to repeat in the year 2000," he said. "Who knows? We should. We will have to wait and see."

The Tulsa Home School Panther Girls basketball team includes Brandi and Bridgett Kurr, daughter of Ray and Pam Kurr of Mounds, Okla.; Heather Perkey, daughter of and Bob and Ginny Perkey of Jenks, Okla.; and Jaime Welch, daughter of Mark and Barbara Welch of Kellyville, Okla.

The girls' counterpart of the opposite sex, the Tulsa Home School Panther Boys, also won their first national home-school championship in San Antonio this year. Matt Welch, brother of Jaime Welch, played on that team.

Mr. Sorenson told The Journal that three organizations of parents of home-schoolers are involved in national basketball tournaments: in San Antonio; Wichita, Kan.; and Denver, Colo. The San Antonio group is FEAST, or Family Educators' Alliance of South Texas. For information on how to enter a home-schooled basketball team in the San Antonio­based annual tournament, call FEAST at (210) 342-4674.

Mr. Sorenson commented that the experience of having several Sabbath-keeping girls on the team has helped develop "mental toughness" for the Sabbatarians as well as the other girls on the team.

"When we hit a Friday-night game and those girls can't play, it's just as hard on them as the girls that are actually out there playing," he said. "I think they develop a certain mental toughness as a result. We view it as a big positive, anyway."

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