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Sixteen year old Charlotte Bulkeley, a homeschool high school junior, loves playing for her varsity girls soccer team. As a member of the Asheville Trailblazers, Bulkeley is building confidence as she sees improvement in her soccer skills, is making close friends with her teammates, and now having a chance to mentor younger players on her team. She is not unlike her peers enrolled in public and private schools, many of whom area also having positive team sport experiences.

According to Public School Review's website in its "Ten Reasons Why High School Sports Benefit Students," the many benefits make a strong case for the student-athlete. From community representation and fitness; to improved academics and time management; to social relations and leadership skills; to positive mentors and the valuable three Ps, persistence, patience and practice, there is often little down side.

For close to 15 years, the Asheville Trailblazers, part of the Western Carolina Athletic Association (WCAA), have been offering a competitive sports programs for home-schooled boys and girls in middle and high school. The program operates in a manner that maintains a focus on, and honors, Jesus Christ.

WCAA belongs to the western region of the North Carolinians for Home Education Athletic Association (NCHEAC). Athletes maximize their potential athletically, mentally, and spiritually as they learn competitiveness, sportsmanship and determination.

Montreat College student-athlete Hannah Teo played two seasons of girls soccer on the Asheville Trailblazers while she was a homeschool student. New to the sport and recruited as goalie for her height, Teo had strong coaching that developed her as an athlete. The team was a significant part of her high school experience, also affording her a new close-knit team friendships from across Buncombe County.

Trailblazer team sports are similar to slate for traditional middle and high school offerings. Typically lasting for three months, the fall brings boys soccer, girls volleyball and coed cross country. In winter, swimming and basketball for boys and girls are up. The year wraps up in the spring, where girls soccer and softball and boys baseball are on the schedule.

Most of Teo's home school peers also played on one of the many Trailblazer teams. She felt proud to play for the Trailblazers and the teams "helped give homeschooling a good name," she said.

Now Teo plays on the newly formed Montreat College lacrosse team. She "learned the sports world and developed as a competitive athlete," she said, earning her a spot on for on the college team.

Some eighteen Trailblazers teams are fielded each year, drawing home school students from across Buncombe County. Athletes try out and playing time is not guaranteed. Practices usually occur several times weekly, along with weekly games. Practice and game locations vary according to the sport and access to facilities. They play against other WCAA teams in the western region, which includes surrounding counties. Additionally, some games against private schools are added to the schedule.

Teo described the WCAA league as professional, structured, and organized. Players also gather for a recognition banquet each season. "We never had behavior problems, fights or trash-talking; it was like a family of girls for me," Teo said. Teo feels Montreat's lacrosse team also gives her a similar family feel, where respect is shown for one another.

One homeschool mom serving as a WCAA board member, feels it is important for her children to have regular exercise and to be well-rounded. If the Trailblazers were not in place, she feels her kids would miss out on the important opportunity of competitive team sports. The formation of the league was in response to what many home school families saw as a gap in the overall experience for these older students.

The camaraderie with other players and families is strong. It also provides social interaction for the parents with other similar families. Parents help in many volunteer roles to make the organization run smoothly, from serving on the board of directors to coaching and scorekeeping. The many volunteers participating helps keep costs lower for participants. The athletes do pay fees to cover facility rental, referees, uniforms and more.

Also coordinated underneath the Trailblazers umbrella are broadening experiences for homeschool students. A service club gathers monthly to provide opportunities these students otherwise might not have.

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