Grace Prep junior Jay Sedwick has never played in a homecoming game.
Sure, the multisport athlete, who will be a senior quarterback in the fall, has taken the field for what was called a homecoming game. But the Lions played home football games at South Grand Prairie High School. The actual campus of Grace Preparatory Academy, an accredited university model private school that opened in 1993, is 12 miles to the west in southwest Arlington.
In October, the Lions are slated to play their first-ever varsity football game at Grace Prep when they take on Plano Coram Deo. The Grace Prep campus is visible, but not obvious, from eastbound Interstate 20, just east of Park Springs Boulevard.
“It’s weird at another school because it’s not your field even when it’s homecoming,” said Sedwick, who also plays basketball and baseball and runs track for Grace Prep. “It’ll be much more exciting to be on the Grace Prep campus to play football.”
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It’s not just football that has had a nomadic existence. No varsity team at Grace Prep holds its home games on the campus. Instead of playing games at the school, the Lions play and practice at Arlington Baptist College, South Grand Prairie High and other locations.
“A home game is a neutral site experience for us,” said Athletic Director Richie Alfred, who is also the basketball coach. “There’s no such thing as a home game. It’s miraculous over the years to think of the athletic success under those conditions.”
To say that the sports teams have had success is putting it mildly. Grace Prep has won 18 state championships in eight different sports. Academically, 100 percent of Grace Prep graduates are accepted into colleges and universities. Also, the school has produced 21 National Merit finalists.
“We’ve been able to succeed because of the sense that we’re all in this together,” junior volleyball player Lauren Kinney said.
The days of a nomadic sports existence are about to end. The pending upgrade of the campus’s practice football field into an 800-plus seat varsity stadium is part of a larger $5.5 million project, the centerpiece of which is a new nearly 30,000-square-foot multipurpose center. Work on the complex, to be located on the west side of campus, is scheduled to begin in May and slated for completion in spring 2017.
The complex will include a gym, four locker rooms, a weight room, administrative offices, a student union and classrooms for science, engineering and robotics. A new circular drive is also slated to be built around the new and existing buildings.
“It’s a natural transition for a school that’s 22 years into its existence,” Head of School Marc Evans said. “We’re pretty excited about it, as you can imagine.”
Kinney’s pretty excited, too. She won’t get to play a varsity volleyball game at the new facility, but if construction finishes in time, her class will have its graduation in the new building.
“It’s a big deal,” Kinney said. “It’s finally happening, so we’re excited.”
For now, though, Grace Prep teams continue to hold practices and games in facilities all over the community. Some of the practices are as close as Lake Arlington Baptist Church on Little Road, about 4 miles away. Other times, athletes must drive themselves, hitch a ride or get on a bus to Meadowbrook Recreation Center in north Arlington or Arlington Baptist College on Division Street.
“For football, we can practice on our field here,” said senior Jeffrey Joens, who played football and basketball and is now on the tennis team. “In basketball, some weeks it would be five minutes away, sometimes 20 minutes. … In a way, [traveling to practices and games] does help bond you.”
Still, there’s something missing from the atmosphere when it’s a home basketball game at Arlington Baptist instead of a true home game at a gym on campus with a Grace Prep logo at midcourt and a decidedly partisan crowd in attendance.
“In a way in basketball, we like playing away better just because of the atmosphere,” Joens said. “The other teams, their gyms had a better atmosphere.”
Evans recalls a T-shirt students wore in the past that read, “No track, no court, no field, no problem.” But to Evans, Alfred and school board Chairman Jay Sedwick, the younger Sedwick’s father, the lack of sports facilities is no joke.
“To them, it may not have been a problem,” Evans said. “From an end result, you could say we’ve been very successful. But if you’re the director of athletics or you’re a parent trying to keep up with your children and they’re practicing at different facilities … it’s a challenge.”
The school spends $50,000 a year in rental fees for practices and games at neutral sites. “We would prefer to keep that money and invest in in our own facilities and we want to be better stewards of tuition money,” Evans said.
Many visitors come to the school having heard of Grace Prep’s academic and athletic prowess, but the lack of facilities causes some parents not to consider sending their children to school there.
“People still almost can’t believe it because they’re like, ‘Where it your gym? Where is your stadium? How is my child going to benefit from this?’ ” Evans said. “And you have to say, ‘Trust me.’ But the reality is, we lose a lot of parents who can’t quite picture it in their mind.”
Soon, students and parents won’t have to visualize the campus’s future. They will be able to see it and play in it.
“This is the bargain of the Metroplex,” the elder Sedwick said. “And now we’ll have the quality facilities to accompany that.”