By Dave Dentel
This coming spring, 19-year-old Derrick Shealy will fulfill his goal of playing college lacrosse, an opportunity that almost didn’t materialize because of roadblocks that other homeschooling families may find all too familiar.
North Carolina laws wouldn’t let Derrick play on a public high school team unless he also enrolled—which was not his parents’ first choice. On the other hand, joining a private sports club meant investing an extraordinary amount of time and resources.
The Shealy family overcame these obstacles, though, employing many of the same attributes associated with champion athletes: perseverance, faith, and a great deal of team effort.
As Derrick’s mom Elizabeth explains, homeschooling and sports were both natural pursuits for their family.
Early in her marriage, Elizabeth taught at a Christian school. This experience, combined with the influence of friends and mentors, led her and her husband to settle on homeschooling as the best means for passing on their values to their children.
Sports involvement was a family legacy. Derrick’s father played football for the University of Richmond, where his grandfather coached.
Derrick discovered lacrosse through the local recreation league and started playing at about age 12. He quickly developed a passion for the sport.
His two younger brothers followed suit. “It kind of became a family affair,” Elizabeth says.
“I like the fast pace,” Derrick says. “It’s still kind of physical like football, and the guys are awesome. Even the practices are fun.”
But lacrosse is not as mainstream as some other sports. By the time Derrick reached high school, the local recreation lacrosse program had fizzled.
He was faced with several unappealing options. He could travel an hour to participate in the nearest private lacrosse club, enroll in public high school, or abandon the sport altogether.
In an essay to prospective colleges, Derrick recounted the time he and his brothers discussed the topic with their parents.
“They explained the sacrifice and costs that it would require for us to continue and asked if we wanted to give up lacrosse,” he wrote. “This was one defining moment that taught me that there is a cost associated with pursuing your dreams.”
Derrick and his brothers ultimately chose to commute to a club team in Charlotte, North Carolina. That meant two-hour round trips three or four times a week for practices and games. Fortunately, says Derrick, the flexibility of homeschooling helped him keep up with the rigorous schedule.
“I can’t tell you how many books I read and quizzes I took on the road,” he recalls.
Derrick also maintained good grades and earned 43 credit hours through dual enrollment at a local community college.
Though he also played for four years on an independent high school–level football team, Derrick especially cherishes his achievements in lacrosse.
Two years ago he was honored as high scorer in a statewide tournament his team won in dramatic—and exhausting—fashion.
“We played five games over two days,” Derrick remembers. “Two games went into overtime. I spent two days in bed afterward.”
Derrick was also named most valuable player this spring when his varsity team, the Cox Mill Chargers, won the club lacrosse state championship for the second year in a row.
While Derrick was driving for hours to play on a lacrosse team, Elizabeth faced her own ordeal transcribing Derrick’s homeschool records into a format acceptable to the National Collegiate Athletic Association.
“If you were coming from a public school, they just ask for your transcripts,” she explained. Because Derrick was homeschooled, however, NCAA officials requested additional information, including records not necessarily required by state law. For example, for each core academic course Derrick took, Elizabeth had to submit a three-page worksheet describing the course, explaining who graded it and how it was graded.
“When he was accepted,” Elizabeth says, “it was quite a breakthrough.”
Now that he has signed with North Greenville University, Derrick believes the effort it took to keep playing lacrosse was well worth it.
“I’ve learned so many valuable lessons from sports, and none of that would happened if I had quit halfway through,” he says. “So for other homeschooled athletes who are struggling, I say persevere. Strive for the goal.”
His mother agrees.
“God knows our kids better than we do, and what they need,” Elizabeth said. “Just be faithful to what God has called you to do, and He will provide opportunities for the gifts and passions of your kids.”