Saturday, November 20, 2010


Leader sports editor

Did anyone realize history was being made?

Yes, a few people did.

But it was more fun just playing basketball.

Lighthouse Charter School tipped off its first, sanctioned basketball season with seventh-grade girls and boys games against Jacksonville at Jacksonville Middle School on Thursday.

The girls team played a thriller, losing 17-14 to the Lady Red Devils while the boys took it on the chin, falling behind 26-3 at halftime on the way to a final score somewhere in the neighborhood of 63-14, to the best of coach Brad Burl’s recollection.

“When we get beat like that I tend to forget them quick,” said Burl, who coaches the boys and girls teams.

No matter. While the girls drew several shrieks of pleasure and support in their nail-biting loss, the parents and teachers who made up the fan base applauded both squads like champions after the final buzzers sounded.

“It was very exciting and I think it’s important for the kids to see us here and see our support,” teacher Melonie Burton said. “If they see us support them here, then they’ll be more willing to work for us in our classrooms.”

The teachers said it was no problem finding players — announcing the sign-up was all that was needed — though there was some friendly dispute over expectations.

“I was surprised,” Burton said. “I was really proud of my girls; they showed up and showed out today.”

“I wasn’t very surprised,” Burton’s fellow teacher Christy Head said. “I know some of those girls.”

For the record, Diamond McGloan scored the first points in the girls program’s history while Giovanni Castiallano scored first for the boys.

But after a taste of real, competitive action, the players were more concerned about getting back into the gym and into their next game, whenever it is.

Lighthouse opened in August 2009 and played intramural sports last year. The Arkansas Activities Association didn’t approve the school for interscholastic competition until September, leaving little time to put together a schedule.

Burl is still hustling to find opponents and hopes to have 7-8 games this first season, including another against Jacksonville. With that in mind he was grateful to Jacksonville for playing host Thursday.

“I just appreciate this opportunity so much,” Burl said, after members of the Jacksonville coaching staff congratulated him for his players’ scrappy effort. “Because I did reach out to some other schools and their schedules were already full. But they made the opportunity for us to come and have a chance to do something positive.”

Lighthouse, founded as an alternative to some of the schools in the sometimes troubled Pulaski County Special School District, is located at 251 N. First Street in Jacksonville. Current enrollment is 394 in grades kindergarten through seventh, with a waiting list that is almost double that number.

“It just gave a whole different opportunity for all my kids,” said Karen Gabriel, a mother of five, after watching her daughter Jonae Guy-Gabriel play in the girls game. “I think they did pretty good, they kind of held their own, so hopefully they’ll improve and get better.”

The school’s blueprint is to add a grade, and hopefully a level of sports, each year, so that one day there will be a senior high and a varsity athletic program. Lighthouse also offers soccer, swimming, cheerleading/dance and Brazilian jiu-jitsu and is planning to run a track and field program in the spring.

The athletic program is so young Lighthouse has yet to settle on a mascot, and is planning a student-body vote. The school has yet to build a home gym and practices twice a week at First United Methodist Church in Jacksonville and spends the rest of its time on a makeshift court in the school’s multi-purpose room and on the playground.

“We’re going to take a lot from this first game and we’re just going to grow and we’re going to build,” Burl said.

Burl, who gave his age as “over 30”, is a former North Little Rock basketball and football player who also played football at Arkansas Tech, where he received his degrees in education and graphic design.

He earned his master’s in education administration and supervision at UALR and plans to earn his specialist degree and his doctorate.

Though he is coaching two start-up basketball programs at Lighthouse, those are just the beginning of Burl’s responsibilities. He is also an administrator, art teacher, physical education instructor and the school’s director of culture.

“If the children see me still trying to work and study hard, I hope that inspires them to work and study hard,” Burl said.

Lighthouse is somewhat unique in that its core curriculum is art-infused.

Before the school year is out, each student is required to take part in some sort of artistic endeavor — a play, an art show, a reading — and the idea is if students can visualize and build a creative project it will be more conducive toward learning grammar, math or hard sciences.

“It’s a new concept,” Head said. “You take children who are not interested in education and you give them an art project or a music assignment that they are interested in and they’re more willing to do the assignment and are more engaged in learning because of the art curriculum.”

So how does basketball fit into the art picture?

The program may be too young for Burl to be talking about transition offenses and man-to-man defenses. But there are some important fundamentals to be learned. Burl quickly ticked off the advantages, from helping kids build self-esteem and learn hard life lessons like perseverance, to building time management skills and developing good health.

“But I always want to stress to the children first, the main goal is education,” Burl said.

“You could be hurt, it could be your last day of playing sports today. But your mind, and your education and your book smarts are what are going to carry you.”

Somewhere down the line, if the basketball program matches the projected growth of the school, there will be bigger crowds, taller players, deeper rosters, victories and maybe even a state championship or two.

Those things may be years away, but now, at least, Lighthouse basketball has driven some of the shadows from its future.

“For a lot of the children it was the first time playing and they responded very, very, very well,” Burl said. “All I can do is brag on them.”