A Springfield-based nonprofit has launched a fundraising campaign for a multimillion-dollar sports complex in Rogersville.
Lighthouse Christian Athletics, a 501(c)(3) organization that offers competitive sports for home-school students, is planning to build the facility on 25 acres. The 15-year-old nonprofit signed a 99-year land lease for an undisclosed rate with property owner Fellowship Bible Church, said Brett Williams, Lighthouse Christian’s football head coach. Williams also serves on the all-volunteer organization’s board of directors.
The proposed site fronts U.S. Highway 60 and sits across the road from the Rogersville church, located at 4855 S. Farm Road 205.
Williams said the project has multiple phases. The first phase includes a football and track stadium with bleachers, adjacent practice field for football and soccer, concession stand and parking. Additional phases will bring in two baseball fields with adjustable outfield fences to allow for other sports uses, as well as a 70,000-square-foot fieldhouse with four courts for basketball and volleyball. The fieldhouse also will include a weight room and locker room for all athletes.
Phase I is estimated at $3 million-$5 million, according to officials. An April 29 event in which the organization honored its varsity football team, which won the National Homeschool Football Association championship in November, also served as its campaign kickoff. The project doesn’t have a construction start date, although Williams said it will be no earlier than 2023.
“It’s going to depend on how the fundraising goes,” Williams said. “I’m guessing the fieldhouse would be Phase II followed by the baseball fields, but we don’t know that yet.”
All funding for Phase I will need to be in hand or committed before dirt is turned, he said.
“If we could break ground this time next year that would be great,” Williams said, citing uncertainty from supply chain and labor challenges in the construction market. “The football thing could be a one-year project, but it could turn into a three-year project depending on supplies.”
Peter and Jan Herschend recently donated $100,000 in a matching gift for the project after being approached by nonprofit officials. Peter Herschend is co-owner of Herschend Family Entertainment Corp., which owns Silver Dollar City, among other attractions. The donation was used, in part, for design work by Great River Engineering Inc., Williams said. No architect or general contractor has been selected, he added.
Nonprofit officials declined to disclose how much has been raised to date.
Williams said Lighthouse Christian’s annual budget is around $150,000 and it offers sports programs for baseball, basketball, cheerleading, cross country, football, track and field, and volleyball. Plans are for soccer to debut in the fall.
Roughly 700 home-schoolers are participating in the sports, with nearly 300 in the football program alone, Williams said. While 95% of the football participants are from the Springfield and Branson area, some come from as far as Jefferson City and Joplin to play and practice.
However, none of the sports has a consistent venue to hold practices and competitions. It’s been an issue for the entirety of the nonprofit’s existence, Williams said.
“We’ll rent local public-school facilities to host home games – wherever has openings and will have us,” he said.
Peter Herschend said hearing that the athletes don’t have stable locations to play was a motivator for him and his wife to lend a hand.
“That’s worth some extra time, effort and investment,” Herschend said of the donation, adding he’s confident the $100,000 will be matched.
“They have done so much with so little,” Jan Herschend said. “We want to come alongside them and help them have a real practice field and place where they can compete.”
The couple say they’ve also spoken with friends about the project in the hopes it spurs additional donations.
“We’ll see past that what needs to be done,” Herschend said regarding future financial assistance for the project.
Williams said the football program, which also includes flag football, has been consistently growing in recent years. The varsity team, which is for ages 15-18, had 30 participating when he began coaching for Lighthouse Christian in 2016. Last season had 47 players and the team is expected to grow this year to 55.
“One of the reasons we’re doing the building project is that signs point to home-schooling continuing to grow,” he said.
Overall, the proportion of American families home schooling at least one child grew to 11% in fall 2020, up from 5% in spring 2020, according to a U.S. Census Bureau report. Over that same period in Missouri, the rate grew to 11% in the fall, a 5% increase from the spring.
“We’re growing more and more,” Williams said. “We want to get to the point where home-school athletics are just as excellent as what you can find in public schools, as far as opportunities for kids and facilities.”
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