There’s another high school in the Rail City that doesn’t receive much attention, but if the athletic director at Excel Christian School has anything to say about it, the Warriors will soon be turning some heads.
Justin May is only in his second year at Excel Christian, but the small Division IV school is starting to make a splash.
“I just like seeing things grow. When I first started here, I kind of had a vision of having a football team and trying to expand sports,” May said. “Us moving really helped that process because from the outside looking in, we look like a real school. Before we didn’t look like a real school. We were just in a building and playing blacktop basketball. Physical education was on the blacktop. Now, we have a gymnasium. Currently, we’re working on a field out there next to our elementary school that hopefully will start being built pretty soon.
“Since I took over this position, I’ve just been focused on trying to grow us in all directions, not just trying to get more athletes here, but also putting a better coaching staff in place. We’ve taken leaps and bounds with that. We have a new basketball coach coming in, who is now one of our teachers. He played Division I basketball. The better your staff is, the more attractive it is for people to come here. We’re trying to build a legitimate program, and I think the coaching staff has a lot to do with that.”
After moving from a building off El Rancho and Oddie Boulevard next to the K-Mart, which didn’t feel like a school at all, to the old YMCA on Baring, Excel Christian is already poised to grow into a competitive Division IV school.
Just the simple ability to use its own gymnasium has provided legitimacy to the school, which was founded in 2003. No longer will volleyball and basketball teams be forced to travel to a gymnasium for practice, and the Warriors can host games.
May, who grew up in Northern California and attended Chico State on a track and field scholarship, teaches P.E. at Excel Christian and coaches cross country in the fall. He also plans on helping coach basketball in the winter.
Excel Christian had a tiny graduating class of 10 last school year, but enrollment has already grown to around 60 for this year, up about 20 students from a year ago. May expects it to grow even more with the school’s new home and it may even double to the point that an addition will be needed on the current building.
The small enrollment is the challenging part about running an athletic department. Almost every student needs to participate in sports in order to field teams, and May has been trying to get more of the student body involved in the school spirit side of sports as well. The small numbers make it hard to be competitive with schools who aren’t hurting for numbers.
But if the growth of the football team in its first season is any indication of the type of kids the school has roaming its halls, then May has every right to be excited.
The first-year football program doesn’t have its own home field and practices on the fields at Eagle Canyon Park near Shaw Middle School in Spanish Springs. The Warriors are playing an independent schedule, and May basically found games with whomever he could schedule.
ECS started off the fall on the road of doom, dropping games at Pyramid Lake, Coleville (CA) and Virginia City by a combined score of 151-12.
Then the Warriors hosted their only home game of the season in a rematch against Pyramid Lake, and in fine fashion, shut down the Lakers, 14-6.
Excel Christian carried that momentum into a matchup at Big Pine (CA), a team with size unmatched by the Sparks school. The Warriors weren’t intimidated though, and demolished the hosts, 58-8.
“The boys are definitely catching on. I think part of it is the athletes having that trust level, but they‘re new coaches,” May said. “If it was a program that we’ve had established for years, that relationship would already be built pretty much. We wouldn’t need as much time to build trust there.”
May said this was the first year it made sense to create a football program. They were able to get their hands on some equipment and brand new helmets, and May felt they should at least try, after moving into a new building. Those efforts paid off and not just in the W-L column.
“We just got the phone call a few days ago, and we are officially in the league for next year. We’re going to be in the league schedules for Division IV,” May said. “Usually it’s a two-year process because you have to prove yourself. Because we pretty much played a full schedule this year, and we’ve already proven ourselves that we can win and can do things, they let us in. That’s pretty cool. It’s a real rare thing. We’re pretty fired up about that.”
May is also excited about a first basketball season with a gym, and the extra 30 minutes of practice time that won’t be taken up by traveling to a place to practice.
There is some positive hype surrounding the boys basketball program in the coming months. After keeping 17 players on a JV boys basketball squad a year ago, this winter will see the Warriors play their first season at the varsity level under the direction of new coach Kyle Swanson.