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Sunrise Christian Academy Athletic Program
January 31, 2011VYPE MAGAZINE - Central Kansas
Their Story Is Growing
Photo by Jeff Tuttle
UNDER CONSTRUCTION Sunrise head basketball coach Kyle Lindsted is building a nationally prominent basketball program in Wichita. "We want to be the best we can be."
Following the basketball team's national success last season, Sunrise is upping the ante across the board, as hoops continues to grow and football transitions to the 11-man game
By Tom Witherspoon
Kyle Lindsted says he never planned to be involved with Sunrise Christian Academy after graduating in 1994. "It was my dad's baby," says Lindsted of his father, Robert, the superintendent of the K-12 Christian school in Bel Aire.
But seventeen years later, Lindsted is in the thick of the school's operations as athletic director and head basketball coach. Lindsted never left Sunrise. Right after graduating, he helped his friend Michael Keimig coach the middle school team. Keimig soon stepped aside to become head basketball coach at Wichita North, and he recommended Lindsted to take his place.
"My dad asked me to take the boys and run with them. We had some really good teams," Lindsted says of the early days with the middle school and grade school teams in the late 1990s. "We had a really good class of fifth graders.
"In 2000, I took over the high school job, and that group of fifth graders were freshmen.
"Every year we tend to get a better player, more exposure, up the ante every year, and it evolved into this," says Lindsted a decade later. "We just set out to be the best we can be."
What exactly has it evolved into? Sunrise, which back in the day scheduled Christian schools and Class 1A public schools, took gigantic steps in a new direction last season, becoming a nationally viable basketball team. Better facilities have followed. They are renovating the gymnasium from the walled-in "Thunderdome" it has always been, so that it will have floor-level seating capacity on one side. They're building a 2,500 square-foot weight room adjacent to the back of the gymnasium, which will change the face of the football program, which since its inception in 2003 has worked out in a garage in back of the school that has a couple benches and no real squat racks. In addition, a year after squashing several area public eight-man programs, Sunrise begins its transition to 11-man football this fall.
The sky's the limit, says Trey Hall, football head coach since 2007. Hall, a transplant from Alabama whose wife, Tiffany, has roots in the area, had 14 kids on the football team in 2007, then 20, and now he'll have 31 on the team this season. There are over 20 players on the junior high team.
"We go to the same league meeting [as the public schools]. By the time league schedules come out, we just get what's left," says Hall of the scheduling process last fall. "Our goal next time is to get closer to home when people understand that we're an 11-man team."
Sunrise will play a mixed schedule this season in football, though fewer and fewer area eight-man teams are willing to play them. "On the eight-man side [at the scheduling meeting], they were unable to schedule us for whatever reason. Then we went over to the 11-man side, and when they found out we were a new team, everyone wanted to schedule us."
"We went over to the 11-man side, and they said, 'Oh man, fresh blood, hey you guys want to play us?'" says Lindsted with a chuckle.
With opportunities to play nationally in high school basketball increasing every year, the Sunrise basketball program hasn't had any problems finding games against larger schools, both in-state and out. A decade after taking over, Lindsted will take his team to national tournaments in Oklahoma City, Wichita Falls and Miami this winter, in addition to a preseason tournament at Olathe South in Kansas. And what does Lindsted mean by adding "a better player each year"? Lindsted fosters several international connections, which began to procure elite basketball talents for Sunrise beginning in 2008.
"All these kids paid full board to come here," Lindsted says of the school's participation in an exchange student program. "When you do well with them, put them in good houses and situations and treat them like family, treat them well, fair, being tough or nice, they know. We've formed good friendships with those who placed them here."
Lindsted says there is oftentimes no way to tell if an international student is going to be good at a particular sport. The goal of the program, according to Lindsted, is to provide a Christian environment, high academic standards and a chance to play at the highest level.
Amazingly enough, he doesn't just mean basketball. No one on the Sunrise football team has more upside than Janis Matulis, from Latvia. At 6'4" and 245 pounds, the defensive end and running back seems like he was born to play a sport his native country didn't play. Hall says Matulis didn't start running the ball until their fifth game last season. On defense? "He gets into the backfield pretty good," says Hall. A couple of Division 1 schools are keeping their eyes on him, says Hall.
Matulis is the most intriguing case among Sunrise athletes, but the most famous is Raphael Akpejiori. Lindsted gave safe haven to the basketball player two years ago.
He came to the states from Nigeria to play at the famed Mount Zion Academy in North Carolina, known for its many NBA products. But after a severe ankle injury playing on the AAU circuit, Mount Zion dropped him several surgeries later.
Ehimen Orukpe, who culminates his roundabout trip from Nigeria to the Wichita State basketball team this year, began his odyssey on the same club team as Akpejiori. Orukpe got into the states in 2007 on Sunrise's I-20 program, arriving during the spring after basketball season. He then went to play junior college ball in Three Rivers, Iowa. During his time there, he vouched for the people at Sunrise to his former teammate when he went down.
"Ehimen lived with me and my family," says Lindsted. "He told Raph, 'I've gotten to know this school.' Raph was laying in a hospital, didn't know if he'd play play again, and full-well knowing he probably wouldn't play basketball, [he came here to Surnise]. At the end of the year (2008-2009), he was hobbling around and didn't play at all. He'd just come off surgery. The next year, he got better and healed up, played AAU all summer (2009) for Baltimore Elite. He blew up, and we had everybody and their dog in here [recruiting him]." Akpejiori heads off to play at Miami, Fla. this winter.
In addition to Nigeria, Lindsted is connected to Germany, eastern Europe and the Bahamas. A coach and teacher by the name Darrell Sears from Freeport, Bahamas, provided both Tamiko McKinney and Leon Cooper to the program in recent years. McKinney now plays at Northern Oklahoma, while Cooper is still weighing his options, which are several mid-major Division 1 programs or prep school. "He's kind of got that island mentality," says Lindsted of Cooper, meaning he's laid back and waiting. "He's a development guy.
"I've got three or four relationships which have been good for me," Lindsted says of coaches on the international scene. "They're people I trust. I know where their heart is, where their mission is."
What's next for Sunrise? With the gym and weightroom completed, the football team will continue to build a foundation this fall. Quarterback Andrew Westerfield, a homegrown Sunrise product, impressed many of the large-classification coaches in attendance at the full-contact Friends University football camp in mid July. Westerfield, who compiled over 3,000 yards and 55 touchdowns as a junior, would fit in ideally at quarterback for several of Kansas' top teams. Hall says several small colleges are recruiting him hard.
Their story is growing.
"Last year we played home (basketball) games at Newman, because we couldn't hold all the people here. When we play Dodge and Liberal, they bring a lot of people, and exposure in Wichita is getting better, too," says Lindsted.
"We want to be the best we can be. In basketball, we've just had opportunities for people to come, and we haven't shied away from them, either.
"We're not trying to hide who we are, we're not trying to single out the weakest link and prey on them, we want to play the best.
"Look at the map of top 25 teams in the country, and outside of Perry (Ellis of Wichita Heights) the last couple seasons, we're void in the Midwest of nationally prominent teams. It's pretty barren. It's not what we're trying to do, but we're not shying away from good players when they come to us and need a place to play."