HOPE, Maine — Fawn Adolphsen, a 1987 alumna of South Hope Christian School, wore the Royals volleyball jersey when she and her team won the championship her junior year. For the last three years she has coached the team — for which her two young daughters play — to three championships.
Friday night, when the team won its 100th consecutive match, was the last time the Adolphsens would sport their Royals uniforms. Their school will close in June, forcing the volleyball team to disband.
“It’s bittersweet. It’s hard. We are sad it will end, but we know it’s necessary,” Fawn Adolphsen said through tears, sitting on the sideline before the game. “I figured they would play here,” she said of her daughters Marina, 9, and Savana, 11.
The 37-year-old school is part of the South Hope Community Church. In its classroom each day, the school’s 25 students break into groups. Instead of having a live teacher standing and instructing the children, each student wears headphones and looks at a television playing recordings from a class in Florida.
The K-12 school, with an annual budget of about $80,000, runs on tuition dollars. At $1,800 a student, the school brings in about half of that and the church picks up the rest of the tab.
“I think as our nation’s economy has declined, our enrollments in our Christian schools have as well,” said Rob McIlwaine, executive director of the Maine Association of Christian Schools, with which the Hope school is affiliated.
In the last four years one other Christian school in the association has had to close for budget reasons. Another left the association because it no longer could afford to pay the $7 per student dues, McIlwaine said.
But in Maine at least, not all Christian schools are faltering. In Presque Isle, the Cornerstone Christian Academy has doubled in size to 160 students since it formed in 2006.
Aside from budget troubles, assistant pastor Jamie Bickel, who works as the school’s administrator, said the school doesn’t fit its purpose as well anymore.
“It was meant to give an alternative to members of our church, but there aren’t many families in the school in our church,” Bickel said.
Of the 25 students enrolled, seven are church members.
No longer supporting the school will allow the church to use the funds and staff time for community outreach, Bickel said.
As for the children, some say they will go to college, while others will be home-schooled. Other area Christian schools have invited the Hope students to join them, Bickel said, and Principal Rebecca Martz said public schools are still an option.
Martz said she has heard that most students plan to attend another Christian school.
Coach Adolphsen has spent the past year working to help her two senior co-captains, Kaytlin Kee and Darcy Finnemore, get ready for college as they leave the Hope school.
“These girls are going to college next year. They won’t just get on a team. They will have to work hard,” the coach said.
Kee, 17, of Union, known for her brutal spikes at the net, will travel to Pensacola Christian College in Florida to study photography and journalism.
Finnemore, 17, of Hope plans to head to Bob Jones University in South Carolina.
“It’s been a really big part of my life,” Finnemore said about volleyball. “It’s the biggest part of the year for all of us. You get really close to your teammates. It forms lasting friendships. You grow close when you’re working together three, four times a week.”
“We’re not going to be a team,” Kee said. “It’s weird to think about.”
Kee is the big fish in her little pond. Her team, which consists of 10 girls ages 6 to 18, competes against 12 other Christian schools, but doesn’t play high schools in sanctioned games. Kee said she’s ready to put in some bench time at her college, but she will miss her time on the Hope team.
“There is nothing to look forward to [anymore]. We are going from the top to on a bench on a college team. It will be a big change,” she said. “I’ll show them what I’ve got.”
Coach Adolphsen said what makes the two seniors good is their dedication, skill, practicing together so frequently and their humility.
“They stay humble. You’d think they’d walk in thinking they’re great. They don’t,” Adolphsen said.
On the court Friday night, at the 100th match game — the final one on the Royals’ home turf and their last regular game before championships — Kee jumped off the gym floor, her hand stretching higher than the net as her fist came down to spike the volleyball. As the ball bolted from her fist, a player from the opposing team jumped up to block it with a punch. The ball fell. As the opposing player shook her wrist in apparent pain and smiled open-mouthed, Kee stretched her hand under the net to shake her opponent’s.
“Our school’s purpose is to glorify Jesus Christ, and volleyball is one little part of that,” said assistant pastor Bickel on the sideline at Friday’s game. “[These students] don’t just stay in our little town of Hope. What we do is prepare the children to whatever God is calling them to. We have so many alumni scattered throughout the globe — Taiwan, Africa. This little tiny school here has had a worldwide impact fulfilling the greatest purpose.”