Grace Christian Academy will probably get to play in one last soccer tournament after all.
GCA and five other Williamson County teams are entered as independents in the Tennessee High School Soccer Coaches Association State Championships in Gatlinburg in July.
The Lions (GCA) will compete in Division II-A from July 13-15.
The Yellowjackets (Fairview) will be in Class AA from July 9-11.
The Bruins (Brentwood), Raptors (Ravenwood), Rebels (Franklin) and Spartans (Summit) will battle for the Class AAA title from July 9-11.
Spring sports were canceled in mid-April due to the coronavirus pandemic.
“We, obviously, only got to play two games this year, so we had a lot of heartbroken kids that were not getting to play soccer,” GCA coach David DeFatta said. “But as coaches we decided, ‘Hey, we’re going to make the most of this.’ So during the rest of the spring and even the start of the summer after school was supposed to be over, we’ve been meeting on Zoom once or twice a week with the guys doing a weekly team devotion Bible study.”
The coaches reminded the players there are more important things than soccer and they adopted the Faith Over Fear motto.
With the state’s economy gradually reopening, DeFatta hopes the timing is right for the tournament. He believes the Zoom meetings helped the players get their priorities back on family and faith.
“Now that we’re back in a good, healthy place, we’re looking forward to getting out and trying to get some normalcy back in these kids’ lives through some soccer,” DeFatta said. “I think when our soccer guys come back from this, they’re going to have a different outlook.”
DeFatta doesn’t think his players will take the practices and games for granted anymore after they was taken away this spring.
The Lions returned all 11 starters from last year’s Class A champion as they moved into their first season of DII-A.
“We were (poised) to make a good run,” DeFatta said. “Obviously, stepping up into the Division II classification was going to present challenges for us, but we think we were prepared and ready for that opportunity and we look forward to it in 2021.”
GCA is in a difficult district with Christ Presbyterian Academy, Battle Ground Academy and Franklin Road Academy. The Lions got off to a 1-0-1 start before the season was canceled.
DeFatta won’t know until early July if the Lions can participate in the 48-team tournament.
“We’re committed to go, but we’ve got to have buy-in from our kids, parents and administrators and really we’ve got to look to our government,” DeFatta said. “I think the last executive order that expires at the end of June states no competitive, contact sports and I believe it lists soccer as one of those. We’re hoping to go, but we’ve got to make sure that we can keep our kids healthy before we 100% commit.”
GCA will begin training soon in small groups and social distance as much as possible with coaches wearing masks. Hand sanitizers will be used and there will be a check-in process with a health screening.
The players’ temperatures will be taken before they step on the field. Locker rooms won’t be used.
DeFatta, in his 10th season at GCA, started the program at the middle school co-ed level and quickly turned it into a winner. The Lions boast a 96-21-10 record the past seven seasons.
“There were a lot of things that fell into place for that to happen,” DeFatta said. “We’ve got a great administration, great teachers, great families at the school, a good, solid coaching staff and players that are faithful.”
Seniors Lance Dial, Kaden Nordhoff (Trevecca signee), Cody Galyon, Matthew Jordan and Charlie Koellein will lead the Lions in Gatlinburg.
Shewit Worton and Malachi Jones led GCA with 25 goals apiece last season as the Lions won the first state championship in school history with a 21-2-2 record.
Jones’ older brother, Michael, posted 147 career goals and 49 assists at GCA before moving on to Trevecca.
Dial, a defensive center midfielder, is grateful for one last tournament with his teammates before attending Auburn, where he will try out for the club team.
“It ends off high school career on a high note instead of on a low note,” Dial said. “It was a little disappointing (when the season got canceled), but we worked through it as a team and were able to get some good out of it.”