Without a doubt, Academics Plus is in an exceptional situation as it supports junior high and senior high girls’ and boys’ basketball teams without a facility. But that hasn’t deterred athletic director and boys’ coach John Harrison from going anywhere else, holding those positions since the 2009-2010 school year.
"People ask me all the time and say Harrison what are you doing," he said. "I consider it a challenge, and I also have good kids to work with. I don’t deal with a lot of attitude problems. We also got and have had talent in the past, and I decided I didn’t want to leave it."
For practice, the teams use the Jess Odom Community Center in the mornings. Their games are played at the Maumelle Middle School. Academics Plus also uses the Maumelle Parks and Recreations fields for soccer, softball and baseball.
"We offer more athletic programs than most Class A schools in the state and don’t have one facility," Harrison said. "Phillip Raborn (Maumelle Parks and Recreation director) treats us well. Whatever we ask for, he always says yes. He never says no. The staff at the middle school is very good to us, too."
When the school began in 2001, initially the basketball team played 7th and 8th grade in a recreational league. As those students moved up and more students enrolled, Harrison noted the Falcons became members of the Arkansas Activities Association in 2003-2004.
After being hired at the school during the 2006-2007 school year, Harrison coached wrestling and assisted some with basketball. He then became the coach a year later, but had to step away after one year when his wife entered a doctorate program at UCA. He still stayed as the dean of students and also refereed high school basketball. In 2009-2010, he was approached about becoming the athletic director and also coaching boys’ and girls’ basketball. He is now just the boys’ coach.
"Two years in a row, the guys had a different coach," Harrison said. "With the practice schedule and practicing at the community center, that was hard. I kept seeing coaches come and go and knew the kids needed a coach to stay and get the program going in the right direction."
Practice begins at 7:30 a.m. and only lasts an hour to an hour and 15 minutes. Because it is so short, Harrison says there is no down time and really no time to stop and correct so he has to try different approaches with teaching. He knows not having a facility is a disadvantage. Even the Falcons’ home games feel like a road game, as the Maumelle middle school has no reference to Academics Plus’ mascot and colors.
"Without a facility, sometimes I think we send the wrong message," Harrison said. "I’ve talked to parents who kids have transferred to another school and find out they are playing anymore. We are also unique in that we don’t have that community backing yet. It’s an odd feeling at our home games."
Still, the Falcons are starting to enjoy success as both the girls’ and boys’ teams advanced to regionals last season. As for Harrison, he is enjoying seeing the progress made through the years and is excited for the Falcons’ and his future.
"If we can keep the guys in the 8th, 9th and 10th grades together, we could win a championship," Harrison said. "I’m grounded in Central Arkansas. When a job comes open, you have to decide if it is a good move—a better situation facility-wise, no question. Knowing what we have coming up, it would be hard to leave. All that talk about dedication would be thrown out the window if I left."