Twelfth-grader Shane Gordon Jr. has enjoyed playing sports all his life.
"My dad put a (baseball) glove on my hand when I was born," he said. "I’ve played ever since."
Gordon attended South Effingham Elementary and Ebenezer Middle schools before his family chose to home-school him beginning with his eighth-grade year. Though Gordon supported being home-schooled, he figured he’d never have the chance to play interscholastic sports.
That changed when he learned about an athletic program for home-school students in Effingham and surrounding counties. Starting with his 10th-grade year, Gordon has played football and baseball for the Coastal Christian Hurricanes.
"It’s definitely great," said Gordon, a linebacker and fullback on the football team and second baseman on the baseball team. "I didn’t really care to go back to high school, and this came about and it fixed my sports itch I had."
The Coastal Christian football team practices and plays its home games at the Effingham Recreation and Parks’ field off Highway 119. Gordon is one of six Effingham home-schoolers on the Hurricanes’ 15-player football roster, along with Bobby Bell, Levi Bell, Daniel Collins, Spencer Houston and Scheldon Paulk.
The team also includes players from Savannah, Bloomingdale, Pooler, Pembroke, and even Hardeeville and Beaufort, S.C. While the majority of players for Coastal Christian and their opponents are home-schooled, the league is open also to students who attend private schools without athletic programs.
"It’s really been a tremendous joy for me to be able to give these kids an opportunity to play football," said Hurricanes head coach Gene Gibson. "Especially the home-educated kids, they really don’t have that opportunity in Georgia at all. You just learn so much from team sports and competition, so it’s really been a lot of fun."
Coastal Christian posted an 8-3 record this season against Georgia teams from Albany, Baxley, Jeffersonville, Ludowici and Warner Robins, and South Carolina squads from Charleston, Estill, Fountain Inn and Pickens. The Hurricanes averaged 46.2 points per game, scoring at least 60 four times.
The team will depart Tuesday for Panama City, Fla., to play in the National Home School Football Tournament for the second straight season. The Hurricanes fell just short of winning the championship a year ago.
"We had a pretty good team last year and won the first game, then lost in the finals," Gibson said.
That was a big step from where the program had been just two years earlier. Gibson’s son Gunnar — who is now the Hurricanes’ quarterback — wanted an opportunity to play football, so the elder Gibson helped form the Coastal Home School Athletic Association in 2010.
However, the response from interested players wasn’t immediate.
"We started out with five kids practicing and playing for football," Gibson said. "We tried to spread the word, and then 2011 was our first season."
The players knew they were building something in that inaugural season. But they took some lumps along the way.
"We were just getting destroyed every single game," said Paulk, who plays defensive end and tight end.
"Our first year, I think it was the third game before we ever even scored," Gibson said. "We were getting beat every week 60-0, and we ended up winning our last two games that year."
The Hurricanes built on that and finished 9-3 last season, with the second-place finish in the national home school tournament. As the football program has grown, so have Coastal Christian’s other athletic programs.
Along with football and varsity and middle-school baseball, Coastal Christian offers boys’ and girls’ varsity and junior varsity basketball. About 70 students participate, Gibson said, with some playing two or even all three sports for the Hurricanes.
"These kids have a great time," Gibson said.
The football team practices on Mondays, Tuesdays and Thursdays during the season. The Hurricanes also have an offseason conditioning program with D1 Sports Training in Savannah.
The football players are responsible for buying their own protective gear, and Coastal Christian charges a participation fee to cover the cost of jerseys, insurance and team equipment. Gibson hopes to organize fundraisers to defray some of the players’ expenses.
For now, though, the Hurricanes’ focus is on trying to bring home a national title.
Not bad for a group of young men who thought they might not have the chance to play organized sports.
"Our whole mission all along has just been to give these kids an opportunity to play," Gibson said. "We never dreamed we’d do as well as we have the past couple years. That’s an added bonus."