Editor’s Note: This is another in a series of articles on the affiliate members of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). Affiliate members have the right to participate in meetings and activities but are without voting privileges or eligibility for elected or appointed offices or assignments.
Location: Del City, OK
When Austin Bivens decided to grow his young school’s athletic programs 10 years ago, he did not foresee exactly how much it would expand the Heartland Christian Athletic Association (HCAA).
“It was a very strong group, and they were content to have just Oklahoma schools,” said Bivens, who is the boys basketball coach at Providence Academy in Rogers, Arkansas, and an HCAA board member. “It was run so well, we petitioned them to see if they would consider expanding their association. After a year they voted, yes, and Providence Academy became the first school outside of Oklahoma to be in what was, at the time, the Oklahoma Christian Schools Athletic Association (OCSAA).”
More schools began to take notice of the OCSAA’s organization and leadership, and by 2014 more out-of-state schools were requesting to become members. In September 2017, the OCSAA, which was founded in 1985, changed its name to the Heartland Christian Athletic Association to better reflect its membership.
The HCAA now has member schools in Kansas, Oklahoma and Arkansas, and hopes to keep expanding.
Chris Hamel, executive director of the HCAA, said there are about six schools waiting for the executive council to determine their membership. If they are added to the association, the HCAA will number more than 60 member schools.
The HCAA offers junior high and high school volleyball, cross country, eight-player football, a cheer competition, junior high and high school basketball, a slow-pitch softball championship, baseball, and golf.
The HCAA’s most popular sport is basketball. The association has three basketball classes: 1A, 2A and 3A, with 3A being the largest bracket. Hamel said the association would like to move to a regional format where winners could move on to a competition similar to a state tournament and make the championship more prestigious.
Bivens said most HCAA members have junior high girls and boys basketball as well as high school girls and boys basketball.
“We’re kind of the Big East of private schools,” Bivens said. “We do have some schools play football, but everybody plays basketball. Basketball is the largest participated in sport across schools.”
Hamel said the HCAA is exploring opportunities to broadcast sporting events like basketball online for friends and family who might not be able to make it to the events.
Another sport that has taken root in schools across the HCAA is volleyball. Hamel said a lot of students are playing club volleyball, which raises the bar for high school volleyball teams to increase the level of play. He said the number of students playing volleyball in HCAA schools is steadily increasing, as is the competition.
One of the most popular fall sports is eight-player football. Spring sports have the lowest participation numbers, but for sports like golf, many schools send individual golfers to tournaments instead of teams.
Hamel said many schools have their own programs and act as feeder schools by involving elementary students early in sports and working with them until they reach high school.
“There’s been a lot of growth and a lot of excitement,” Hamel said. “There’s a lot going on right now.”
He said the association has to take travel into consideration because the HCAA’s member schools span across three states. It tries to have tournaments and championships in central locations, like John Brown University in Siloam Springs, Arkansas, where the last basketball championship was held, or in Tulsa, Oklahoma.
Hamel said Christian colleges have been very welcoming about allowing the HCAA and the schools to host championships on their campuses. He said the high school students enjoy playing in bigger gymnasiums and spending time at various colleges.
Another important aspect of the HCAA is religion. The HCAA is an association for Christian schools, and Hamel explained that he expects students, fans and coaches to conduct themselves properly, play with sportsmanship, have a Christ-like manner and be good representatives of the HCAA and their schools. It discourages students fighting, arguing with referees or using profanity.
“We just want them to represent first-class,” Hamel said. “We want them to do things the right way and have credibility. When people see that name on our uniform, they’re going to have a perspective on what we’re about. It’s important for us to do things the right way, and when kids don’t follow that standard, to hold them accountable.”
Hamel said many of the schools in the HCAA have a code of ethics that is signed each year by the student and their parents, and that students usually do a good job of upholding those standards. He explained that many of the students are trying to better themselves and are motivated to work hard.
“It is a great fit for us because many of the schools are doing things pretty well,” Bivens said. “They take athletics seriously, they take other extracurricular events like choir and band seriously, and I see a great path to grow our school through athletics and other extracurricular activities.”
Kirsten Adair was an intern in the NFHS publications/communications department. She is a senior at Butler University in Indianapolis majoring in journalism.