By Steve Williams
These are exciting times at First Baptist Academy of Powell. Its basketball teams have tasted victory.
You can really call the Eagles and Lady Eagles new and improved.
Heading into an invitational tournament they were hosting this past weekend, the FBA boys were sporting an 11-6 record and the FBA girls were 10-7.
“The girls and boys programs have really come a long way from where we were four years ago,” said Matt Mercer, the academy’s headmaster and head boys basketball coach, via e-mail last week.
“This is actually our fourth season and our second full season of playing just varsity teams. The first two seasons neither the boys nor the girls teams won a game. But those losses are now paying off because many of those same kids are experienced leaders on our current teams … We are competitive night in and night out.”
First Baptist Academy’s teams are members of the TSSAA, added Mercer, “and we have just chosen not to participate in our district yet to give our programs time to mature.”
First Baptist Academy has 285 students in Pre-K age 4 through 12th grades and has grown by 100 students in the past year, said Mercer. The enrollment includes approximately 50 high school students.
New TSSAA classification rules go into effect in 2017-18 and there could be three classifications in Division II (private schools), Mercer pointed out. With its small enrollment, FBA could be in Class A of the private school ranks.
If that happens, “look out!” noted Mercer, who foresees FBA being in contention for state honors.
“I believe developing a winning culture is the greatest challenge of building any successful program or organization,” stated Mercer, a 1997 Powell High School graduate who guided Grace Christian Academy’s boys team to a berth in the 2013 Class A state tournament.
“I believe to build a program you have to focus on the small wins in the day to day process … It really comes down to building healthy relationships and doing things consistently the right way whether it’s building a school, an athletic program or any other organization.”
When asked what he feels have been the most satisfying strides thus far, Mercer answered, “I have been proud of the way our female and male athletes have shown great character by continuing to work hard despite not winning their first couple of seasons. They are now seeing some of the fruits of their labors.”
The FBA boys have wins this season over Jay Frank White Academy, Tennessee School for the Deaf, Washburn and Concord Christian among others.
Progress also can be seen in defeat.
The Eagles’ toughest test came against Clinton, a Class AAA team. The Dragons won 84-37, but Mercer said his team hung close in the first half.
FBA was surprised in a 74-70 loss to Christian Academy of the Smokies. “They had picked up two transfer players from Pigeon Forge High School,” said Mercer.
The boys team has had consistent play from their top six players – senior shooting guard Hunter Bearden, senior guard Corey Lett, 6-2 senior post Jared Hinton, 6-2 junior point guard Josh Lett and newcomers Nick Campbell, a 6-4 junior post, and Noah Harris, a 6-2 wing who is an eighth grade standout.
Bearden, coming off a season-ending ACL tear in last year’s first game, has had multiple 30-point performances, including a school record 36 points in the 60-56 win over Concord Christian.
Josh Lett, who averaged around 25 points per game last season, is averaging 15 points this season with a lot more firepower around him.
Harris, who was trained by Dre Mathieu in the off season, is having an excellent campaign in his first varsity season as an eighth grader. He recently scored 26 and 28 points in back to back games.
Mathieu played for Mercer at Central High in 2009 and 2010 and went on to start at point guard for his final two seasons of college basketball at the University of Minnesota in the Big 10.
“Harris looks like he could have an excellent career at FBA,” said Mercer. “He will be a potential college prospect if he continues to improve and grow. He already has offers to play for the best AAU teams in the area this off-season.”
The Eagles’ game is fast-paced.
“We are playing an exciting up-tempo style the fans and players love that involves pressing and pushing the basketball up the floor on every possession,” noted Mercer, who also was an assistant coach at Powell High and Fulton’s girls head coach before he went to Central.
In FBA’s current four-game win streak, the Eagles have averaged 75 points per game with a winning margin of 30 points per game.
Darin Mercer, Matt’s brother, is head coach of the FBA girls, who have been led by sophomore guard Julia Martin and junior guards Allye Neal and Leah Hickman. Kelsey Hollifield, 6-0 freshman, is expected to be a force on the inside the next few years.
The Lady Eagles’ win column includes victories over TSD and Concord Christian. They lost to Class AAA Clinton 54-24.
“The Lord has truly given me and my family a great opportunity at FBA to be a part of such a great ministry at FBC Powell,” added Matt Mercer. “God is doing a special work in the hearts and lives of our students and families. We are so excited to see what God is going to do in the future! In the meantime, we are just enjoying the process!”
To find out more about First Baptist Academy, log on to fbaeagles.org or call (865)947-8503.