Throughout the county and across the country, the majority of high school athletic programs deal with the cyclical nature of their rosters and the ebbs and flows that come with it.
Some years, talent is abundant and seemingly endless. Other years, the pool is dry.
For a school with less than 50 high school students, North County Christian’s struggles are more rudimentary.
The school doesn’t have enough participation numbers to field most sports teams at all, let alone consistently competitive ones.
In her first year as athletic director, Kellie Bergquist is determined to change that.
“Due to low numbers of students, we just started lacking enthusiasm and excitement,” said Bergquist, who has worked at the school for 14 years. “I want to bring that back. “I’m absolutely, 100 percent walking in faith on this one.”
The Crusaders have had a solid girls volleyball program under coach Doug Harbottle for the past three years, but nothing else at the varsity level.
Bergquist is spearheading an ambitious turnaround, hiring coaches and scheduling varsity opponents in 8-man football, girls and boys basketball, baseball, softball and track this upcoming year in addition to girls volleyball.
What’s pushing her? Bergquist said it’s her belief that competitive sports further enhance the experience of high school, and that the cross-brain activity helps retain information from the classroom.
“Having taught (physical education) for so long, I think sports make students better academically and more disciplined,” she said. “It also builds relationships; it’s about wanting that person next to me to get better.”
Participation has still proved to be an obstacle.
“The most guys we’ve had at any one practice is six,” said newly hired football coach Bryan Matherly, who added that only one of the six has high school experience, having played as a freshman on North County Christian’s last football team. “My job right now is a lot of explaining and a lot of teaching.”
Matherly is a former Templeton assistant and a North County resident since 1986. He has seen what the Atascadero-based private school is capable of.
“They were always competitive in basketball and baseball,” he recalled. “Football had its ups and downs like everyone, but they’d get 16-20 guys on the team. Those are great numbers for 8-man.”
North County Christian has approximately 130 students in the entire kindergarten through 12th grade school, Bergquist said, and around 40 of those are high schoolers.
Matherly hopes to have 12 players this season. The Crusaders could field a team with the bare minimum of eight, but because of the physically demanding nature of the sport, the threat of injuries increase exponentially when nobody gets a rest.
Practices begin in earnest Aug. 1, and Matherly said they will set a deadline to determine if the season needs to be canceled.
Those who have participated in spring ball, he said, have shown a relentless desire to improve.
“One of our first practices, only two guys showed up,” Matherly said. “All we did was run drills for an hour and a half straight, and never once did either of them complain. I feel like I’ve found this hidden gem of talent and I’m excited to see this thing through.”
The North County Christian football team is scheduled to play three Coast Valley League games this upcoming season and freelance six others across the state.
“When you’re out of something for three or four years, it’s really hard for them to truly believe we’ll be back in it,” Bergquist said of scheduling league games.
There’s no denying Bergquist’s commitment — “Kellie has worked tirelessly. Anyone on the outside who doesn’t know our enrollment would think we’ve been around forever with the way she works,” Matherly said — but it can be said with similar conviction that the battle is far from won.
As Matherly put it, prospective students who want to attend a Christian school and also play competitive sports aren’t going to look at North County Christian as a premier destination.
At least not yet.
“It’s hard to get momentum going again, but you’ve got to start somewhere,” he said. “We have a couple seniors who give us everything they’ve got, but we’re doing whatever we can to try and build for the future.”
It’s an uncertain future, but Bergquist is set on making sports at North County Christian thrive — or at least persevere.
“There was a point I was thinking about switching to other sports like soccer or lacrosse, because we might have been bored with what we had,” she said. “Maybe we just needed a break, but it’s time to roll again.”