Growth at the Sandhills Classical Christian School and AC Sandhills has led to a need for more space, and the initiative of several components in the community led to an answer that will fulfill the need of both the private school and the athletic club.
The newest addition to the preschool to 12th grade classical christian school on Rays Bridge Road in Whispering Pines is two full-size athletic fields, as well as a smaller practice field on the 58-acre property that was purchased in 2017. Since the purchase, the first school building was opened in 2018 for the lower school and the upper school building was opened in January. The school was opened in 1999.
Dell Cook, the head of the school, said that the attendance at the school has exploded with 75 percent growth in the last 18 months. Much of that increase is due to parents wanting their children to have normal five-days-a-week, face-to-face education as a result of the pandemic.
With approximately 450 students expected to be at the school next year for all grades, there was a need for more amenities for the growing student population.
“We’re excited to leverage that growth into the growth of the campus as well with facilities to facilitate that growth,” Cook said.
The fields are the first of two major projects on campus this year as an indoor arts and athletics facility is expected to break ground this fall. The fields are expected to be finished by August, and will allow athletic teams from the Sandhills Classical Christian School to have a place to call their own.
Currently, there are nine interscholastic sports teams at the school. Every team, except for cross country, has to compete off campus as either visitors at other schools or using local churches and parks and recreation facilities to host events, Brandon Shell, the schools’ dean of students and athletic director said. This fall, Shell hopes the number of teams will increase to 12.
“This fall with the fields we will be able to have soccer and football. Those home games, that’s going to help build that school culture that helps build that pride,” he said.
Football will be a new addition to the school this fall to go along with the fields. Because of the school’s size, the football will be 8-man football instead of the typical 11-man form of the game.
“I’m excited about having home turf,” Shell said. “It helps to build the school culture and for the kids to feel more at home instead of each sport, each endeavor they’re tackling having to carpool here and there.”
Giving Back to the Community
Sandhills Classical Christian understands the predicament that AC Sandhills finds itself in, looking for facilities to use in the area. When the idea of a partnership came about, the administration for the school saw the positives that could come from sharing the fields.
“We thought this was one way to share the resources that God’s blessed us with the community and the kids that are a part of Moore County, and not just Sandhills Classical Christian School,” said Gene Liechty, director of development at the school. “It’s a win for both of us, I believe.”
AC Sandhills’ footprint of practice fields for soccer and lacrosse spans across many soccer and baseball recreational fields in the southern part of the county. The addition of two more helps relieve a lot of the pressure for the athletic club that was founded in 1986, according to AC Sandhills President Kristen Hudson.
“Field space is tight. As our community grows, so does our sports. With the community growing, the field space gets less and less. It’s been very difficult,” Hudson said. “It’s amazing to have Sandhills Classical Christian actually partnering with us to allow us to have some field space. Our lacrosse program is growing tremendously over the last three years and they are just running out of space. This is going to be amazing for them to have some extra field space to continue that growth.”
Hudson said the club is happy to have a field to call their own, as the club will have rights to the field on weekends and summers when school is not in session.
Currently, AC Sandhills uses fields at the Morganton Road Park, Cannon Park, the infield of the Pinehurst Harness Track, baseball diamonds at the Armory Park and the field behind the former Aberdeen Elementary, among others.
“After talking with my lacrosse director, these will be some of the nicest lacrosse fields in the state,” Hudson said. “Lacrosse is kind of an afterthought, and we as a club want to change that. We want to help the school to continue to grow their lacrosse program and their other programs as well.”
One key piece in connecting the dots between the school and the club was Lee Pittman, the chief business development officer at Rhetson Companies.
Pittman, a former board member for AC Sandhills and parent of players in the club, saw a connection that could be made.
“To be able to have AC Sandhills have a home with a good partner like Sandhills Classical Christian, it’s important for when you have other soccer or lacrosse teams come to the area to see a nice location, a nice school and two championship fields that have been built very well,” Pittman said. “Once they told me they want to build some soccer fields and even a gymnasium, that we are trying to help them with this fall, I was like, ’man, this will be a great fit for AC Sandhills.’”
Liechty said that Pittman understands the struggles of finding a home that both the school and the club have suffered in recent years.
“His kids grew up playing AC Sandhills soccer so he’s always had a heart for AC Sandhills and wanted AC Sandhills to have a home,” Leichty said. “We’re not the only ones who’ve been nomadic.”
Both the school and the club see the positives of having more fields for their athletes to play and practice on, and it comes with both working together to provide the “first-class” facilities.
AC Sandhills signed a contract with the school that Leichty said will help pay for upkeep of the fields at a little more than $2,000 a month. The school footed some of the $300,000 bill, although school administration said that a large portion of that sum came through donations.
“We’re excited for the partnership that comes from working with AC Sandhills as it links our school into the community,” Cook said. “A profound centerpiece of what we hope to be and do is to be a blessing for the community.”
Sandhills Classical Christian hopes the facility upgrades will go a long way in recruitment and retention of students in higher grades.
Cook said that retention of students at the older grade levels is oftentimes a hard task for Sandhills Classical Christian and other schools of that nature as students want to attend public schools with more amenities and other educational offerings.
“Just by helping them with their programs is going to help the community,” Hudson said.
The issue of a lack of field space is a problem that goes across the entire county, and Pittman hopes to see changes from the county to keep up with surrounding areas.
“The county, to me, hasn’t done a good job of solidifying sports fields for youth sports in this area like Sanford, Raleigh, Holly Springs and surrounding counties,” he said.
Rhetson, a West End based construction company, is managing the project and played a big part in the fields being put on the property.
“It’s a real effort from a number of folks from Rhetson Companies, who are managing the project,” Liechty said. “We’re getting over $300,000 worth of field not fully donated, but a lot of that is being donated.”
Contact Jonathan Bym at (910) 693-2470 or email@example.com.