On Oct. 22, the Horizon Christian Academy football team played the first ever game on its campus off Sawnee Drive. The Warriors had practiced and played home games at Bennett Park.
While the school’s new facility lacked some of the more polished elements found at most high school football stadiums, it did have one familiar component in a large rock at the entrance of the stadium painted in the school’s colors with a motivational message.
But what was missing on that day was less important than what was gained – the Warriors’ had a home.
And a place to defend.
Defend it, they did. Horizon defeated rival Johnson Ferry that night, 37-34. A week later, against the eventual state champions, the Warriors defended their home field again in a 34-33 overtime victory against King’s Academy. In the spring, Horizon’s boys soccer team went undefeated at home on the way to winning the program’s first GICAA state championship.
“It brings a sense of pride to both soccer and football,” said Charles Wiggins, Horizon Christian’s athletic director and head football coach.
Horizon had a lot to be proud of this past season. The boys basketball team won its second straight state championship, and the boy soccer team had its milestone state title. The boys tennis team had individuals advance in the state tournament. Alex Dahlberg even placed in three events at the state track meet despite Horizon not having track facilities.
FCN: What stood out to you about the fall season?
Wiggins: “Volleyball we’re rebuilding from our two state championships. Football stays the same every year. We get our 18-20 kids. We just go out and try to have fun and play the game the way it’s supposed to be played. Cross country, not many people like to run anymore. We have middle school. And cheerleading program we’re trying to progress with a middle school program. Not competitive cheer, but just something for them to do.”
FCN: The football team went 5-6 after reaching the state championship the season before. How would you assess the football team’s season?
Wiggins: “Starting here in 2012, we didn’t have a season. And in 2013 we won zero; goose egg. And the year after that we won two games. But then the next year the program started getting where it’s like we have some stability.
“Of course, in a small school, really good players make a difference. Two or three of them will put you in a good position. But the next person can step in. We do the same things. We have different people, and next year the person moving in may not be as good as the one who played the past year, but they’re good enough to settle down and help us win and do the right things.”
FCN: So even though the season’s wasn’t as successful in wins and losses, it felt like the program took a step forward in stability?
Wiggins: “In our program, we may have six seniors. The following year three others might not play. So you end up having nine people not return the next year. It’s not like the bigger schools where they may play 17 or 18 players even though they have 100 players. Here’s it’s a little bit different, because you never know what you’re going to have.
“Like right now, I don’t know what my roster looks like July 20. I know it’s going to be 18-22 players, but I don’t know what the roster looks like. That can be frustrating. But I’ve learned in my older age God always provides us with what we need, and we just have to take what we got and make the best of it.
“But that’s the way it is with all the teams here until you grow your numbers and get a firm foundation. My goal was to come in and put us on a good foundation. Doesn’t matter about what kind of players you have. Just play the game and do the best you can with what you have, and the winning will come if you have good coaching and can coach them up and make them feel confident in themselves.”
FCN: How many students participate in athletics at Horizon?
Wiggins: “We probably have 84 in high school, and maybe 50 or 60 in middle school. That’s about 140. So we probably have 85 percent that participate in sports.
“But the issue is what they play. They might play baseball this year but not play baseball next year. I had two baseball players that switched to soccer. Now they want to come back to baseball. But that’s the way it is here in a small-school atmosphere.”
FCN: The boys basketball team had an impressive season in defending its state championship.
Wiggins: “We’re a basketball school. Kids from all over the county, they come here to play basketball. Not football or baseball. You can’t blame them. Coach (Damon) Taylor has won two state championships in a row. He’s been GICAA Coach of the Year twice.
“He scheduled some of the tough teams, and we knew we didn’t have the talent that we had last year. But then again, with his program, he gets players in place. Matter of fact, we lost the region championship game, and then we went in to the playoffs and won pretty convincingly the whole way.
“That’s what I mean about the sign of a good program. The kids step in. He’s got numbers. That’s where I want everybody to get to in all of our programs. So if a player decides you don’t want to come to practice or workouts, that’s fine, but you don’t get to play either.”
FCN: What stood out to you about the spring season?
Wiggins: “Boy soccer. They’ve won like four region championships in a row, and they’ve been in the state playoffs. Finally, they pulled it off.
“The soccer team probably has the most athletic kids from the school. We knew going in to this year it would be hard to beat them. And if feels the same way this (upcoming) year. They only had two seniors. They’re loaded.
“Another thing, we put the girls program back in. Before my tenure here, the girls had won two state championships. We’ve been OK in soccer.
“We don’t have a track team, but we sent kids to a couple of track meets this year, and then they participated in the region track meet. We’ve been pretty successful. Alex Dahlberg ran in the 100-meter, 200, long jump and triple jump. He’s like one of the fastest in our league. He’s the real deal. They really want to be a part of it and do it.”
FCN: What did the addition of the football and soccer field bring to the athletic program?
Wiggins: “It brings a sense of pride to both soccer and football. You’re not going to come on our field and beat us. We played two football games on that field. We played Johnson Ferry. It was the pride for them, that they’re not going to come on our first day ever playing on our own field and beat us. The boys played their hearts out, and we won 37-34. And then King’s Academy, the eventual state champion came in, and we beat them. That was a surprise to them. They came back in the playoffs and beat us by a touchdown in the fourth quarter. But it’s a sense of pride and history now.”
FCN: Do you have any other facility plans?
Wiggins: “They’re putting in cement pads. By August 14, we’ll have enough seating for 400 people. Eventually a press box. And then there’s just no telling. The school just has to grow in numbers.
“My strategic vision before I retire is if you come here and you participate in athletics, it’s like participating in any one of these GHSA schools. Maybe a little bit tougher to play here. The conditioning and things we do are just as good or better as these other schools.
“So when you leave here, you have a sense of pride. You may not have played at a big school, but you got two state championship rings.”