The San Marcos Panthers, a homeschool girls' basketball team, won the National Christian HomeSchool Basketball Championships.
Photo provided by Darren Banks
San Marcos Panthers capture HomeSchool Basketball Championship
Dreams became reality for the San Marcos Homeschool girls basketball team as the Panthers captured the National Christian HomeSchool Basketball National Championship by beating six different teams from across the country.
It was an emotional moment for senior Grace Banks as she not only played her final basketball game with the Panthers, but also brought home the biggest and perhaps most historic trophy in San Marcos Homeschool organizational history.
“Being a senior I was crying,” Banks said. “It was emotional playing my last game, but for it to be so amazing with an awesome team ... because on and off the court they are great.”
Head coach Darren Banks, who is also Grace's father, had trouble explaining his emotions as his team defeated the HEA Firebirds in the national championship game, 49-38, while the game clock continued to count to zero in the final quarter.
“It’s an exhilarating experience,” he said. “It was so exciting in those final seconds when Madi (Madison Hurta) had the ball and we were counting down. It’s hard to describe at the moment but it was awesome.”
But the road to a national championship was not an easy one.
The Panthers played one of the most intensive schedules in the state, facing a variety of teams, both local and statewide.
The schedule included showdowns with basketball powerhouses in Fredericksburg, San Antonio Brennan, Buda Hays, Brock, Midland Greenwood, Corpus Christi Carroll, Edinburg Vela, and Sinton, to name a few.
Despite the long road, the entire experience was worth it for junior point guard Hurta.
“We worked hard all year,” Hurta said. “We played a difficult schedule and we deserved it.”
Because of the unique situation of the players, San Marcos Homeschool mainly focuses on playing in high school tournaments across the state.
Compared to San Marcos High School, for example, the Panthers may play as many as seven different tournaments in a single season, whereas the Rattlers can only play in three tournaments a season.
According to Darren Banks, the reason San Marcos Homeschool plays in so many tournaments is because many of the players have different schooling than one another.
“A lot of the kids have a varied high school curriculum that they follow,” Darren Banks said. “There are all sorts of different programs from things done at home or at community college at the grade level. So scheduling is difficult at times to have everyone on the same page compared to a public school where everyone is in the same regime everyday. So we will typically play one game a week and practice twice for three hours a week compared to a normal school.”
One of the challenges for Grace Banks is mainly keeping the balance between basketball and school work on your own.
“It varies a lot but I’ve been homeschooled my entire life,” Grace Banks said. “It is a lot of self discipline to get your schoolwork done on your own so just trying to squeeze that in whenever I can. I’ve learned that basketball comes after academics so if I don’t do my schoolwork, I will not be playing, which motivates me to complete everything on time.”
With basketball games on the weekends, this allows players like Hurta to be able to plan things ahead of time.
“I’ve been very independent on doing my schoolwork on my own,” Hurta said. “If we have a tournament, I usually look ahead and see what schoolwork I have and do it a couple of days before the tournament so that I do not have to worry about it during the games.”
Players such as Emily Genovese also plan ahead as her classes start on the first day of the week, she said.
“I usually have class on Monday so that’s when I get my whole schedule done,” Genovese said. “With the tournaments happening at the end of the week, I try to get as much done as I can before then or I try to work on everything after the tournament. Just wherever I can squeeze it in.”
But the vigors of schoolwork wasn’t enough to slow the Panthers as they finished the season with a 47-3 record.
Competing at the National Championships in Springfield, Missouri, San Marcos HomeSchool won their pool by defeating Manhattan Homeschool Chief, Southern Missouri Rush, and Cincinnati Trailblazers Homeschool.
Advancing to the gold bracket, the Panthers defeated both Fort Bend Christian Homeschool and Memphis Home Education Association to reach the championship game against the Firebirds.
But San Marcos faced a major obstacle in their path to the trophy.
“Their (The Firebirds) entire offensive and defensive gameplans revolved around their center who was 6’5,” Grace Banks said. “Our plan was to put enough pressure on the wings and guards where they couldn’t pass the ball to her in the paint. Then it was about trying to deny her the ball as much as possible and slow her down.”
The game plan worked as the Panthers held on for a 49-38 win over the Firebirds.
In the end, it was the off-court chemistry that pushed San Marcos to the top.
“It takes talent and hard work,” Grace Banks said. “But that is a given. There are a lot of great teams that could have made it but didn’t … for us it was about the off-court chemistry and friendship. We all love each other so much. I’ve been a part of so many teams but this one was my favorite because the girls are so amazing.”