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Friendship sees numbers soar following sports success
Nov 30, 2012 12:00 am
Despite an economy in rebound and increasing costs associated with education, Friendship Christian School has seen growth in both enrollment and retention, thanks in part to success in the athletic arena.
“We are adding three more students at the [winter] break,” said Friendship headmaster Jon Shoulders, who lauds the 106 new students added to the rolls in recent years. “Freshman and sophomore classes have the most new students.”
The freshman and sophomore classes combined make up 128 of the 217 students in high school at the tuition-based pre-kindergarten through senior school that will celebrate its 40th anniversary next year.
Shoulders said the school has also seen a strong retention rate, “which is wonderful in this economy.”
He pointed to several recent successes in sports as a big reason for the increase in enrollment. Since the 2006 Commanders football team finished runner-up for the state championship, teams have garnered five state championships in various sports. Its first was a state title in baseball in 2007.
Last year, the school celebrated three state championships in volleyball, football and boys basketball. And with the volleyball repeating as state champs already this year, the football team will try and do the same Saturday at 11 a.m. against Adamsville at Tucker Stadium on the campus of Tennessee Tech in the Blue Cross Bowl.
“We are seeing [enrollment] numbers start to rise,” Shoulders said. “Athletics is a big draw for us.”
Shoulders pointed specifically at two students enrolled recently at Friendship who were drawn to the athletics programs. He said one is a sophomore volleyball player who moved to Lebanon from Florida when her father transferred jobs.
“She heard about our school and wanted to be a part of it,” Shoulders said.
The other is football and basketball standout A.J. Long, who moved from Pennsylvania and stars as the Commanders’ quarterback.
“When they made the decision for him to come stay with his mom, he was going to a similar private school,” Shoulders said of Long. “I’m sure they heard about all of the things here that are going on. We didn’t know anything about him until his mom walked through the door…It has been a blessing to have students come here like him.”
But Shoulders said Friendship’s athletics success hasn’t always been at championship caliber.
“There was a time when our school was everybody’s homecoming,” Shoulders said. “Over the years, that just began to break.”
Next year, Friendship Christian will move into Division II play, which will allow for need-based tuition assistance to be offered to student athletes. It’s something Shoulders said hasn’t been done before at Friendship, which charges $ 7,895 per student each year.
“We can’t recruit,” Shoulders said. “We still have to do it the way we have always done it. We can offer need-based financial aid…We believe that winning the championships has allowed us to make the move [to Division II].
“Your child may not be a great athlete but may not be a starter at a school of 2,000. Here, they can be a superstar. They get to play earlier, and that’s the fun thing about it.”
And while athletics are part of the reason for the enrollment spike of late, Shoulders said it’s not the only reason to attend Friendship. He said more than $4.6 million in scholarship money was offered to the 48 graduates last year, and the school’s ACT score average stands at 24.5.
Shoulders is also proud of the students’ outreach programs that included mission trips to Haiti for water purification and a necklace ministry, as well as providing aid to Sneedville students. Sneedville ranks nationally among poorest areas, and students help feed people there at Thanksgiving, as well as providing clothing and toys at Christmas.
Each student at Friendship is also provided an iPad to use as a replacement for textbooks.