ARTHUR — The girls’ basketball team at Arthur Okaw Christian has won four of its last five games to improve its season record to 6-11.
In a sport in which chemistry and familiarity with teammates is important, AOC has had to learn as it played. All five starters in recent games are home-schooled students as are two others who have started games.
The starting lineup for coach Troy Mast’s team has included senior guard Hanna Erwin, sophomore forward Audrey Henningsen and three middle school students, eighth-graders Jessica Franklin (guard) and Lilli Messmore (forward) along with seventh-grader Amanda Franklin (guard).
Top subs include senior center Isabelle Spitz and eighth-grade forward Brooke Porter, who are home-schooled, along with AOC student Elizabeth Urbeck, a junior center from Lovington.
Erwin and Messmore are from Atwood. The Franklin sisters are from Mahomet. Spitz is from Fisher. Henningsen is from Sadorus, and Porter is from Mattoon.
In all, nine of 12 squad members are home-schooled. Some of the team’s practices are at the Henningsen Gym, which is located in an outbuilding on the family farm. The team never practices (or has a game) on Wednesdays so that players and their families can attend church services.
Because AOC is not a member of the IHSA, it can use middle school athletes in varsity games. The team is permitted to play public schools in regular season contests but not in tournament play.
During the team’s recent winning streak, Erwin and the Franklins have scored more than two-thirds of the points (148 of 219).
One parent said his children are appreciative of the opportunity to participate.
“My daughters have never played sports for an actual school team before, so they were excited just to be wearing uniforms and actually going into a locker room,” Jason Franklin said. “They honestly thought that was a big deal.”
AOC’s girls’ program is in its fourth year and is seeking its first winning season. Last season’s team was 11-21. Other records were 12-14 in 2011-12 and 3-14 in 2010-11.
Other squad members are freshman Layne Kauffman from Humboldt and eighth-graders Valerie Fuller from Villa Grove, Katie Haifley from Mattoon and Becca Urbeck from Lovington.
Mast’s assistant is Erik Kauffman.
Coach returns to alma mater
DANVILLE — The idea entered Geoff Desmond’s mind while he was a student at Danville High School.
“I started thinking teaching would be a good career,” said Desmond, a 2001 Danville graduate. “Danville High School had excellent teachers who made a good influence on my life.”
A standout baseball player, Desmond played two years at Danville Area Community College and two years at Arkansas State before spending part of two summers in the St. Louis Cardinals’ minor league organization.
A physical education teacher at Danville’s Edison Elementary School, Desmond recently was hired as the Vikings’ baseball head coach. He replaces Gary Gritton, who resigned. Desmond was on Gritton’s staff last spring.
When he started his teaching career five years ago, “One way to stay around baseball was to be a coach,” Desmond said.
He assisted Tim Bunton for a year at DACC and was on staff at Missouri-St. Louis for two years while he completed his degree requirements.
“In college, it never felt like I was building my career,” Desmond said. “It felt like I was in limbo.”
Through Gritton, Desmond learned about the lifestyle of a high school teacher and coach. “It seemed more appealing,” he said.
“From a baseball standpoint, I know I’m ready (to be a head coach),” Desmond said. “There are some behind-the-scenes things that will be new to me. It’s really an honor to coach in Danville. It’s an awesome place and with an awesome history.”
Two Division I players graduated from last season’s team, but two seniors who’ve started since they are sophomores will return. Pitcher Michael Vascura and third baseman Austin West are the Danville veterans.
“This is a year where there will be new faces in the lineup,” Desmond said. “People who haven’t seen a lot of varsity time will be asked to fill big roles.”
Preseason practice in baseball starts March 3. Schools can play games March 17.
Clinton’s Toohill passes mark
CLINTON — Senior Haley Toohill moved into second place for career assists at Clinton High School. The person she overtook was her mother, Martina Underwood-Toohill. Haley Toohill has 410 career assists and trails only 1979 graduate Lesli Spencer, who had 474. Martina Underwood ended with 350 career assists.
Haley Toohill became Clinton’s ninth member of the 1,000-point club on Dec. 28. She has 1,012 points. The Maroons’ all-time leader (with 2,437 points) is the former Martina Underwood, who continued her basketball-playing career at Parkland College.
Haley Toohill also has given an oral commitment to join the Cobras’ program next school year.
“She is the greatest passer and floor general I’ve ever had the pleasure to coach,” Clinton’s Josh Williams said. “As a freshman, in 2010, when Brooklyn Gregory tore her ACL, Haley was asked to score. She did so, averaging 15.5 points per game over the final eight games without Brooklyn. She has done everything we’ve asked of her and more. We have been blessed to have had Haley for the past four years. She turned our program around, and we are forever thankful.”
Twin City meet on Jan. 30
CHAMPAIGN — The Twin City wrestling meet, postponed by Tuesday’s chilly temperatures, will be Jan. 30 at Centennial High School. Champaign Central is the defending team champion. The Maroons (3-5) have won 14 of the last 15 Twin City titles in wrestling. Eight of last year’s 14 individual Twin City titlists were underclassmen.
Area kids on campus ...
— Senior Aaron Vanagaitis, a 6-foot-3, 277-pound nose tackle from Monticello, played in nine games for the winningest North Central College football team (13-1) in school history. North Central lost 41-40 to top-rated Mount Union in the semifinals of the Division III playoffs. Vanagaitis is a philosophy major;
— Sophomore Aaron Larson from Unity ranks second in scoring (15.5 points per game) and first in rebounding (9.0) for Olivet Nazarene University’s 5-9 team. He has started all 13 games that he has played and has made 31 of 60 shots (50.6 percent) from the field. Sophomore Reid Farchmin from Mahomet-Seymour has played in every game, starting eight for ONU. He is fourth on the team in scoring (8.4 average) and has a rebounding average of 4.9. Farchmin had hit a team-high 80 percent of his free throws (42 of 50). Junior Hunter Jacobs from Centennial has played in 14 games and started seven. He is averaging 5.9 points and 4.1 rebounds while playing an average of 19.7 minutes per game. Sophomore Alex Thorson from Unity, is fourth among ONU players in assists (24) and is averaging 2.2 points and 2.0 rebounds per game. He has played in 13 games.