There’s no gymnasium at Arlington’s Flint Academy. But that didn’t stop the Falcons from becoming the top boys basketball team in the Texas Christian Athletic Fellowship this season.
In March, Flint topped Azle Christian 59-58 in Willow Park to win the TCAF state championship. The 95-student kindergarten-through-12th-grade Christian school, in its ninth year of existence, won it all despite not having traditional practice or game facilities.
After-school practices take place outdoors on a concrete surface at the Roosevelt Drive campus. In order to host a home game, the school must rent out a gym — usually at Trinity United Methodist Church in west Arlington.
A parent of an Azle Christian student asked about Flint’s facilities, unaware of the academy’s unique situation. “We don’t have a gym at all,” Head of School Paula Flint recalled telling the parent. “She said, ‘How did you win it all?’ Well, it has to do with perseverance and practice.”
Flint coach Aaron Hallford and his players don’t view the outdoor court as any kind of disadvantage. The academy features a Charlotte Mason curriculum. There’s also a relaxed classroom environment, a pet dog and iguana and plenty of interactive learning opportunities such as student-produced theater performances and walls decked out with art inspired by renowned artists.
An outdoor full-court gym that doubles as a faculty parking lot is just another way that Flint isn’t like any other school. “The court for sure is the biggest difference,” Hallford said. “I think in preseason it’s even better for the conditioning, because we have to deal with the heat. We don’t have the air conditioning like other teams.”
Senior point guard Hunter Bennett, who averaged a team-leading 25 points, said playing games indoors feels that much easier when you’ve prepared in the wind and often-toasty Texas weather. But practicing in the elements is not where the team’s drive to succeed comes from.
“It’s the camaraderie and just relying on each other,” Bennett said. “We have faith in each other.”
In the title game, Flint took down the defending state champion and the team that bounced it from the playoffs a season ago. All seven players contributed to the championship run, including freshman guard Kevin Flores, who played stingy defense against Azle Christian’s top player and dribbled out the final seconds of a one-point game. Bernachi Dismond, a junior, provided the winning margin by sinking two free throws with under 20 seconds left.
Hallford and assistant coaches Kevin Hammack and Josue Calimano said they knew they had a group of players with a ton of potential. “Going into it, I thought we would make a good run for it,” Hallford said. “It’s more about who gets hot at the end of the year, and we put it together.”
Junior Jamari Carter said it’s hard to describe what winning a state title feels like. “To me, that’s unexplainable because we’d never won a championship,” Carter said. “The feeling is really beyond words.”
What makes Flint’s feat even more remarkable is that the coach first had to win the head of school over on the idea of fielding a basketball team. “At first, I didn’t allow sports because I thought it would take away from the academic aspect,” Flint said. “But [Hallford] convinced me he would do the sports without the yelling and cursing and include as many kids as he could.”
Flint and the academy’s faculty have done their part to foster the program’s success. That includes moving their cars in time for after-school practices. “That’s how most practices work,” Hallford said. “Find whoever is driving the car and let them know we’ll be out there.”