FORT WAYNE — Success. How does one define it in high school athletics? By the number of sectional championships? The character of the players? The culture created by the coaches? Strong academics?
For Homestead’s boys and girls basketball programs, it’s all of the above.
Under the direction of boys coach Chris Johnson and girls coach Rod Parker, the teams finished at the top of Class 4A, won the Summit Athletic Conference titles and both marked more than 20 wins in the 2018-2019 season.
“I think both of us push each other,” Johnson said.
The girls have especially seen success in the past five years, winning five sectional titles, three regional title, two semi-states, and was the state champion in 2017.
In the past six years, the boys have won five sectional titles, two regionals, one semi-state and were the state champions in 2015.
No matter the trophies in the case or the banners on the wall, both teams are focused on the “whole package,” which is likely what leads to the teams’ success in the first place.
The whole package
“We’ve been successful, but we have great kids who really work hard,” Parker said. “We have a culture of wanting to win and do what’s necessary to be successful. Those are great life skills they’re taking from our program.
“Coaching is not all about basketball — it’s neat to see them go into the next stages of their lives and be very successful — to college, and go on from there to be great people, great citizens, raising great families and being role models for others in future generations.”
The Spartans’ four boys seniors, this year — Xavier Overstreet, Zac Bradtmiller, Trent Loomis and Will Smith — all have a GPA of 3.4 or higher.
“They just work hard. From a coaching standpoint, that’s what you want,” Johnson said. “Those are the types of kids that you want in your program.”
While many have a dream of playing professional sports, that’s not a likely reality for most high school athletes.
“I’ve been coaching for 30 years and have one player, Caleb Swanigan, who is making money off playing basketball,” Johnson said. “You need your education, it’s so important.”
Fellow students and fans alike have respect for the players, which has been important to the success of both programs.
“We want the culture to be where we’re high flyers — we do what we’re supposed to do and we’re well respected in and out of the classroom. All the credit is to the kids in the successes over the years.”
”A dream job”
Johnson and Parker combine for nearly four decades of coaching presence at Homestead — Johnson just finished his 20th season and Parker completed his 18th.
Johnson ranks 17th in the state for current winningest boys coaches, with an overall record of 411-176 in his 25 years, which includes 5 years at Bishop Dwenger prior to his tenure at Homestead.
Since he came to Homestead in 2000, Johnson has won seven sectional titles, two regional titles, one semi-state and one state championship.
On the girls side, Parker is the 20th winningest current coach in the state with an overall record of 314-119. Since he started in 2002, Parker has led the Spartans to six sectional titles, three regionals, two semi-states and one state title. The girls are the most winningest program in the state for the past 8 years.
“The fact that we’ve both been here as long as we have — it’s a lot of consistency,” Parker said.
When Parker took the helm of the girls program, there had been four different coaches in five years.
“When you have consistency in what you’re trying to do on the court, off the court, and the general culture of the program within the community — once we got it going — we’ve been pretty successful.”
Johnson, who is also an assistant principal and assistant athletic director at Homestead High School, said 20 years ago he found his “dream job.”
“I’ve been very fortunate here at Homestead. It’s a great community and there are great kids and great families. When you’re happy, you want to stick with it,” Johnson said.
Both coaches were recently named the Summit Athletic Conference’s coaches of the year, titles they have earned more than once since the teams joined the SAC four years ago, when Homestead and Carroll were excluded from the Northeast Hoosier Conference when it became the Northeast 8.
The basketball and football programs were invited to join the SAC, which has only increased the teams’ competitiveness.
“The SAC is a great tradition of success,” Johnson said. “It’s highly respected, there’s great athletic directors and it’s very competitive. The SAC has made us that much stronger, competing at that high level.”
Despite coming in and taking the girls title for the past four years as newcomers, Parker said Homestead has felt welcome in the SAC.
“We were very fortunate the SAC took us in,” Parker said. “It’s a great conference all the way around and there’s a lot of notoriety throughout the state. We’re fortunate to be a part of it.”
One change that has come with joining the SAC is the girl-boy doubleheaders, in which both varsity squads face the same opponent on the same night.
“When we came in, I wasn’t sure I’d like it, but it’s neat to have a common opponent that the school can get behind,” Parker said. “For us to go out and play at 6 p.m. followed by the boys, the community gets to see both varsity teams play and the kids support one another.”
A community that cares
While many programs across the state have seen a decrease in their fan bases, that is not the case at Homestead, which has a strong following of both student and community supporters.
“All the extracurriculars here at Homestead, no matter what it is, has families that care,” Johnson said. “We care about their kids and we want what’s best for their kids too.”
That is not always the case at other schools.
“Compare us to other programs in the area, we by far draw the best crowd and have the best support,” Parker said. “We have a good group of people in the community who follow us consistently — we are very fortunate.”
Future Spartans view the players as if they’re famous, and the players are important role models to Southwest Allen’s youth.
“We both (Parker and Johnson) have created a culture where kids want to be a part of something special. They want to play hard, work hard, and represent the school and community,” Johnson said. “All the credit to the families here — Rod and I are fortunate to be apart of that.”
Both teams have feeder programs that encourage youth to learn to love the game and build on fundamentals that flourish when they reach high school.
“We have a great feeder program in AGBL (Aboite Girls Basketball League),” Parker said. “There are a lot of kids in the community playing, and I believe our continued success is a great motivation. The young kids see what the girls at the high school level are doing, how hard they play and the skill sets they have.”
The high school girls program hosts camps in the winter and summer, and players enjoy interacting with youth — even through social media.
“They’ve used it in a positive light. They’ve visible as much as possible with the kids, saying hi to them at the games.”
Some of the younger followers even copy the high school girls’ hair styles the day following a game.
The boys have a program for third through eighth graders.
“The kids come in, learn the game and have fun, so they want to continue to play,” Johnson said. “We don’t want to make it stressful for young kids. Hopefully someday, they’ll be varsity players.”
In a time when there is much stress for high school athletes to be successful, neither program has lost sight of the fun of the game.
“I’ve always told people I’ll coach until it’s not fun — and right now, it’s fun,” Parker said. “We have very talented and loyal coaches. When players see coaches that are on the same page and enjoy being together, it helps promote an environment that people want to be apart of.”
Though both programs have already seen much success, it’s not over yet.
“We’ll always reach for that pinnacle (state title),” Johnson said. “We’ve both won one, but it will always be a dream and goal and will still be a dream and goal of mine until I decide to hang it up.”