Plant City Observer Article

The private school added tackle football to its repertoire for 2018.
by: Justin Kline Sports/Associate Editor

A new year at Faith Christian Academy brings a new challenge to tackle.

The addition of six-man tackle football for 2018 brings the school up to a total of seven sports offered for its student body. Thirteen of the school’s 36 registered athletes play for the team, which began regular-season play this month.

Athletic director Beni Jombai said tackle football has been a much-desired sport at the school for some time and, now that the student body has grown to more than 100 and Jombai was able to find a Christian athletic conference with the sport, the time was right to build the program from the ground up.

“We have a lot of talent. We have a lot of athletes,” head coach Mike Tinney said. “We’re just trying to develop the football instincts for them and it’s looking good so far.”

The Falcons joined the Florida Christian Association of Private and Parochial Schools (FCAPPS) conference, which offers two regions of eight-man football and one region of six-man football across the state. Though many of the teams in FCA’s region are nearby in the Tampa Bay area or Lakeland, the Falcons will have to travel as far as Ave Maria and Palatka for some of their regular-season games.

To make tackle football work, FCA is using whatever resources it has available. All Falcons home games are played on campus at FCA, which is nestled in a spot next to Shiloh Baptist Church north of Interstate 4, and the field crosses over the soccer field as if the two were in an “X” shape. The team currently has to rent lights for home games and does not have bleachers, but FCA is taking things one step at a time as enrollment trends upward and donations to the 501(c)3 school come in. Eventually, Jombai said, the goal is for FCA to offer traditional 11-man tackle football.

“We want to make sure that everything is right for the 6-on-6. Then we can build up to the 8-on-8. Then we can build up to 11-on-11 at some point, God willing,” Jombai said. “You need to lay the right foundation.”

The Falcons are currently 0-2, most recently taking a 56-12 loss at Hernando Christian Academy, and they’ll look to turn their luck around this Friday at Donahue Catholic in Ave Maria. The Falcons are scheduled to play their first home game, a rematch with Hernando Christian, at 4 p.m. Oct. 5.

Tinney said starting from scratch has been a challenge he and his team are taking in stride. Though the wins haven’t come yet, internal expectations are high and the players are committed to putting FCA on the map.

“The biggest challenge was convincing the players that this was going to happen,” Tinney said. “Slowly but surely. We started with seven (players), then we got eight, then we got nine, then we got 10 guys. Now we’ve got a full roster. Once everybody saw what was happening and what we’re trying to do with the team, it grew from there.”

The team’s scrappy, do-it-yourself attitude is reflective of FCA’s approach to fielding sports teams with a limited budget and resources. The school also offers competitive volleyball, cross country, basketball, soccer and flag football, which are split between two other conferences, the Tampa Bay Christian Athletic League and Central Florida Athletic Conference. In some cases — namely in soccer, FCA’s most successful sport — this allows the Falcons to technically play two seasons of one sport in one school year, scrapping the traditional notion of exclusive fall, winter and spring sports. All coaches volunteer their time and many are teachers at the school. Jombai himself coaches soccer and volleyball, wishing to help wherever he can to fill a need. Faith also has a non-competitive cheerleading squad and offers several sports on beginner and intramural levels.

Jombai hopes to find a Christian conference for competitive cheerleading soon and is beginning to look into lacrosse and hopes to see FCA grow to include competitive baseball and softball in the future.

“By the grace of God,” he said, it could be a dream come true in a few years.