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Homefield advantage coming soon to Bethlehem football

POSTED: July 13, 2014 12:00 p.m.
Adam Wynn/Barrow County News

BCA head football coach Lance Fendley stands in front of the newly-sodded field that will soon become Bethlehem’s first ever home football field. The Knights hope to open the season at home on Aug. 22.

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On a warm summer evening in Bethlehem, workers placed the final square of sod on a project that has been a long time coming for one local football team. In August, that work may come full circle as the Bethlehem Christian Academy Knights should get to host their first ever true home game.

"You really can’t measure it. You talk about a program that didn’t really start varsity football, our first competitive year was 2012, and here we’re getting a football field in 2014," Bethlehem Christian Academy football coach Lance Fendley said. "There are schools that have more financial resources that aren’t getting it done that quick, so I think it’s a testament to the BCA parents and the BCA family.

"The support that we have…that’s just a credit to our parents and all the hard work that they put in," Fendley added. "This field has been a long time coming, and everybody wanted it. Now that we have it, my main concern is getting on it quickly and making sure it’s a place that people around the county know about."

Fendley’s excitement was sprinkled with some guarded optimism, however, as the Knights are not yet guaranteed that they will be able to open the season on their home field. BCA will start the season on Aug. 22 by hosting Windsor, but the field may not be fully ready by then.

"My confidence level is high. I believe in the people at BCA and I believe in our administration and I believe that they’re doing everything that they possibly can. BCA as a school, we’re doing everything we possibly can to get us on that field as quickly as possible," Fendley noted.

"Honestly, a few things have to come into play in order for us to play on Friday nights."

First and foremost, the grass itself may not be ready. The new sod will need between seven and ten weeks to get firmly rooted in the ground. That timeline puts it being ready just barely by the end of August at the earliest.

"The grass is great, but you’ve still got to have lights and things like that," Fendley said, while still hoping the facilities will be ready on time.

In addition to the grass, certain elements of the high school football atmosphere must still be put in place. In order to host night games, the field would need stadium lights. Those are not yet in place. The seating situation has not yet been fully resolved, either.

Fendley has discussed a few scenarios for seating with the administration at Bethlehem, but no decisions have yet been made.

"As it stands right now, we’re going between two different options," Fendley explained.

Bethlehem is considering whether or not to buy new bleachers to put up by the field or to rent bleachers to be constructed on a weekly basis.

Even though the second of the two options would require more work for everyone involved, Fendley and his staff seem willing to do whatever it takes to make the situation work.

"When you’re looking at a brand new field like us, the stands are really kind of the last thing I’m going to worry about. If I have to rent bleachers before every game, I can do that, and I really won’t be too upset about having to do that," Fendley said, referencing one reason permanent fixtures may have to wait. "My main focus is that we have the best quality lights we can get and the best quality field paint. The bleachers are going to be one of those things where make sure we can accommodate the most fans we possibly can."

That task may be easier said than done, though, because the Bethlehem fan base is known for filling the stands in just about any venue they inhabit or invade. Seats come at a premium at nearly any BCA athletic event, and Friday night football is no exception.

Bethlehem’s fans even filled out the patio at Top Dawg Tavern Thursday night to hear Coach Fendley talk about the program on WJBB’s Coach’s Corner, proving that no BCA event is too small and no need is too great.

The small school has grown almost non-stop over the last few years and has added students at an astounding rate. In the last year alone, BCA added approximately 70 students to the 500 who were enrolled at the end of the 2012-13 academic year.

With the added enrollment and the introduction of a true high school class in the last few years, BCA athletics have benefited in obvious ways.

"Make no mistake about it. It’s a wonderful sign of BCA’s growth," Fendley noted. "You’re talking about a school that’s only 14- or 15-years old that already has a brand new football field. That’s pretty impressive if you think about it."

At the same time, adding a football field to the growing athletic facilities seems like the next logical step for Bethlehem to take. The football program, now entering their third year of full varsity competition, continues to improve and entertain a devoted fan base. The baseball team has clearly excelled with their home facilities, proving the usefulness of such advantages, while the basketball teams will also be getting a home court soon.

So, the football field was next on the list.

"I think it’s our greatest achievement yet. It’s just so beneficial for our players. Whether we’re playing the first Friday night game there or the last Friday night game this season, for them to have a home is something special," Fendley explained. "Every coach has the cliché, ‘Well, every field is our home field,’ but to have your own home field at your school, that makes all the difference in the world.

"Even on a home game we have to travel 20 minutes to Monroe. It’s hard to get fired up about the home field advantage when you still have to drive 20 minutes," Fendley added. "Give our players credit, they’ve never complained once. They haven’t let them bother it one bit."

In lieu of a true home field, the Knights have been playing at Monroe Area High School’s abandoned facilities. Now, though, this team will get the chance to see what it means to have a field to call home.

The players have not yet had an official chance to see the new field with grass, but that has not stopped them from talking about it. Ever since the field was leveled in the spring, excitement has run through the ranks at BCA and has created something of a frenzy among the players and the coaching staff.

Fendley plans on taking the team to see the field together next week during practice, though, and that first time really visualizing that field should be something special for the Knights.

"They’re very excited. They look out there and see those guys working, and some of them are just like, ‘Is that really our field?’ They can’t believe it. It’s fun to watch them all getting invested in it," Fendley stated.

"This field is unbelievable for us," Fendley reiterated, also mentioning the incredible responsibility the Knights have to defend that new home. "It’s our home now, and it’s our job to set a standard for that home and to create an atmosphere around that home field that people will remember."

Even though the team may not get to start the season on their home grass, Fendley acknowledges that patience, in this case, might be a crucial virtue as he understands what the team might sacrifice in quality for the sake of speed.

"We want to get on the field as fast as possible, but we also want it to be done right. We don’t want to throw something up there that looks terrible," Fendley added. "You want it to be real nice and to be a place that you can be proud of, and I have full faith that BCA is doing that right now."

Getting on the field may take some time, but whenever it comes, Fendley knows that the moment will be special for the students and for him as it will serve as validation that what Bethlehem football is doing is working.

"It’ll be emotional, I’ll tell you that. It’s what we’ve been wanting for a long time. It’ll be an emotional night, but it’ll also be fun," Fendley said. "That first game is going to be an electric atmosphere.

"You’re talking about a team that was bringing 500 fans 20 minutes away. I have a feeling that first game that we have at BCA is going to be quite a large turnout and it’s going to be an electric atmosphere."

Come fall when the lights are up and the field paint is down, long after the field goal posts have been installed and the seats may or may not have been purchased, though, BCA’s new field may still lack one crucial element: a name.

"We haven’t had one of those conversations yet, but I’m sure it’s right around the corner," Fendley acknowledged.

Stadiums have been named after everyone from Presidents to winning coaches to deceased players or even excessively generous donors. With Bethlehem’s short history, the number of options for naming the stadium is much lower than most, but it also increases the probability that the stadium could be rededicated and renamed at a later date.

No matter what the facility is called, Bethlehem faithful look forward to filling the rented or purchased seats sometime during the 2014 season. If they get their way, the Knights will fill the stadium on Aug. 22 for their first ever true home kickoff.



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