Going to bat: Grassroots effort helps more kids 'Play ball!' and learn life lessons

 

Luke Cote of Caledonia is at bat for the Golden Triangle Knights homeschool baseball team in an April 20 game in Meridian. The Knights team provides junior high and high school-age homeschool boys in the Golden Triangle an opportunity to play baseball. Luke is the son of David and Paula Cote.

Luke Cote of Caledonia is at bat for the Golden Triangle Knights homeschool baseball team in an April 20 game in Meridian. The Knights team provides junior high and high school-age homeschool boys in the Golden Triangle an opportunity to play baseball. Luke is the son of David and Paula Cote. Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

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Josh Phillips, 17, is on the pitcher's mound for the Golden Triangle Knights in a game with Columbus Christian Academy. Josh is the son of Maureen Phillips of Starkville. Two of Josh's brothers, John David, 15, and Joel, 12, are also on the team.

Josh Phillips, 17, is on the pitcher's mound for the Golden Triangle Knights in a game with Columbus Christian Academy. Josh is the son of Maureen Phillips of Starkville. Two of Josh's brothers, John David, 15, and Joel, 12, are also on the team.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Jordan Brock, 13, and Trenton Brock, 10, sons of Michael and Cindy Brock of Caledonia, inspired the family to start up the Golden Triangle Knights.

Jordan Brock, 13, and Trenton Brock, 10, sons of Michael and Cindy Brock of Caledonia, inspired the family to start up the Golden Triangle Knights.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Zach Halverson, 13, left, and Joel Phillips, 12, wait their turn during a Golden Triangle Knights game with Columbus Christian Academy.

Zach Halverson, 13, left, and Joel Phillips, 12, wait their turn during a Golden Triangle Knights game with Columbus Christian Academy.
Photo by: Courtesy photo

 

Cindy Brock

Cindy Brock

 

Michael Brock

Michael Brock

 

 

Jan Swoope

 

 

At age 17, Josh Phillips of Oktibbeha County had never played organized baseball. Never stood on a pitcher's mound, staring down home plate. Never worried about a two-knuckle grip or the mechanics of a curveball.  

 

"I had never even hardly picked up a ball before, didn't know hardly any of the rules," said Josh. "I'm used to playing football, but baseball has always been kind of a classic sport, and I've always wanted to play -- just never had the opportunity." 

 

That chance arrived after Michael and Cindy Brock of Caledonia took a "leap of faith" and organized the Golden Triangle Knights homeschool baseball team. The couple went to bat for homeschooled boys who, after age 12, were past the age for teams in regular park leagues. 

 

The catalyst was the Brocks' son, Jordan, 13. After "aging out" of the league he'd been in, he still wanted to play. Alternatives were scarce. The family played travel ball, a significant commitment to frequent road trips during months well past the traditional spring baseball season. But the Brocks knew there had to be other homeschooled kids interested in having an area team. 

 

Cindy said, "We sought counsel and prayed about it, and it seemed to be the right move to start a homeschool baseball team. And here we are, we just finished our second season."  

 

"I felt happy when they started the Knights because then I knew I could be on a team with some of my good friends," said Jordan, who likes to pitch. Jordan's brother Trenton, 10, is also in the program. 

 

As far as the Brocks are aware, the Knights are one of only four similar homeschool baseball teams in Mississippi, the others being in Meridian, Laurel and Jackson. The Knights play teams from schools including Victory Christian Academy in Columbus, Hebron Christian School in Pheba and Grace Christian School in Louisville. 

 

Michael volunteers as head coach; Cindy handles administration. 

 

"In 2018, which was our first year, we had I think 13 or 14 boys, and this year we had 17 or 18 boys," said Michael. Players are, so far, from Lowndes and Oktibbeha Counties, but the roster is open to boys throughout the Golden Triangle area.  

 

"And we'd love to have a girls' team if there was enough interest," Michael said. 

 

The short term goal, as stated in a Parent Packet the Brocks compiled, is "to provide an outlet for homeschoolers to play organized baseball after age 12."  

 

The more in-depth aim is to use baseball as a venue to help young men understand how to handle life's pressures and challenges, how to use the "talents that God has given them in a constructive manner," the handbook states.  

 

"Baseball is a minor goal," said Cindy. "The bigger goal is how to develop a Christ-like attitude in dealing with life." 

 

The team's mission statement stresses other objectives, too, including: to train boys how to be humble when winning and gracious in defeat; how to measure progress toward a goal; how to respect authority even when they disagree; how to accept instruction and apply it; and how to make decisions that affect themselves and others. 

 

"Baseball is so much like life -- the pressure of the pitcher, the batter with a ball coming by his head at 70 mph ... these are life situations," said Cindy. "No, we don't all have baseballs flying at our heads, but we do have to stand in there and face the battles in life; we have to stay in there and swing the bat." 

 

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Jake Halverson of Columbus, at 18, is the elder of the Knights. He didn't grow up playing baseball, but since joining the team has learned a lot about the game -- and about setting an example for young players, including his teammate and little brother, Zach, 13. 

 

"There were several players, along with me, that tried to take a leadership role, trying to be encouraging to especially younger players, to just to do your best and not give up," Jake said. 

 

Head Coach Michael partners with assistant coaches Brent Shields, Jeff Hilfiker and Isaac Gerhart to guide the team that practices at Ola J. Pickett Park in Caledonia. Together they mentor young men who are maturing and improving in skill.  

 

Josh Phillips said, "I was a quarterback, but throwing a baseball and throwing a football is totally different. There was definitely a learning curve, but Coach Brock really taught me how to pitch. He told me to work on the small things and to be consistent. I tried to focus on what he taught me. The little things count -- even like just putting a little extra work in here and there, doing the drills the coaches showed us. 

 

"You work a lot as a team, but then there's also almost a one-player (aspect), where if you mess up one thing, it can turn the game around." 

 

Cindy remarked, "Baseball is one of the most unique sports: They must perform individually while also performing as a team, which prepares them for work and for life later on." 

 

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How does a new team like the homeschool Knights take shape? First, someone has to care. 

 

"It's a mom or dad that says, my kid needs this, and I have just enough time in my budget," said Cindy. With support of parents, participants, coaches and community, a team produces benefits. Better skills and stronger bonds with friends and family are among them.  

 

"I learned a lot. When I started the season I probably couldn't have caught a fly ball or anything. I've improved a lot," said Zach Halverson. "It was really fun to be out there, and I definitely made new friends." 

 

His dad, Stacy Halverson, added, "We've played soccer and football, and this was another chance for them to participate in something they may not have had the opportunity to do, give them a chance to see if they like it." 

 

The Knights' second season, which began in January, ended in early May. Now the players look forward to a June awards cookout and baseball game between dads and sons. Then, prep begins for next season, with some summer practices and maybe even a few games in the fall. Motivation is high. 

 

"The biggest inspiration? That's really simple," said Michael. "It's the change I've seen in the boys who've participated. This is such a character-building experience, and that's what we use baseball for. We don't play baseball to develop college athletes: If that's what they want to do that's fine and we love it. But the main motivation is character development. ... To be able to see what actually takes place when you put them in a stressful situation in a baseball game, knowing that they've developed a skill in the game that they can then later apply in life, that's what we want." 

 

Editor's note: To learn more about the Golden Triangle Knights, contact Michael Brock at [email protected], or 662-386-9555.

 

Jan Swoope is the Lifestyles Editor for The Commercial Dispatch.

 

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