Football: Central Maryland relishes more than just love for sport

To think of football, one might imagine hard-hitters, intense rivalries, flea-flickers, or even England's version of soccer.

The Central Maryland Christian Crusaders love the game, but to look at their organization as strictly football based would be inaccurate. The Crusaders, based in Carroll, is a Christ-centered varsity high school football program for students that are either homeschooled or attend religious private schools.


They're also national champions two years running.

Last November, the Crusaders traveled to Panama City Beach, Fla., to compete in the National Homeschool Football Tournament, where they won the National Beach Bowl title to cap a 9-3 season.


In 2014, Central Maryland Christian went 8-4 and captured a National Homeschool Bowl crown.

The Crusaders are 24-9 over the last three seasons.

The organization opened its 2016 preseason practice Monday at Westminster City Park and wide receiver/safety Josh Lewis seemed pretty excited to get started.

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"It took a lot of hard work here and on the practice field," Lewis said. "I know the guys worked really hard and put in a lot of extra hours outside of practice and it really paid off. It was nice to see it pay off like that.

"The championship we won is in the back of everyone's minds. It's where we want to end up again and have that feeling of a completed season, that's what we're all looking for."

In Maryland, a student must be enrolled at a public school if he or she wishes to play a sport in that district. Homeschooled children's options are limited, so a few parents helped form an organization in 2005 that gave those kids a chance.

Crusaders coach Mark Zinnamosca has been coaching the program for eight of its 12 years (the team's inaugural season was 2006) and said 2016 looks to be the program's biggest year with 52 enrolled players.

"It's the surprise that they'll sacrifice the time and energy that they do to be here," said Zinnamosca , who became head coach in 2009. "This isn't a high school team where it's convenient to go out after school, everything is right there. We have to make all that stuff up and they have to get here so it's not easy for them. It's a little difficult and it's amazing to see that commitment."

As Monday's humidity started to dissipate, the athletes completed a variety of drills and footwork. Three levels make up the program — middle school, junior varsity, and varsity. But the groups worked alongside one another, regardless of age or skill level.

The Crusaders are unlike a regular high school football team in that they aren't affiliated with a Carroll team or school. Players hail from different counties and neighboring states to play for the organization and share similar cultural and religious values to form relationships with their counterparts.

Coach Mark Zinnamosca gives instructions to the Christian Crusaders football team during practice at the Westminster Playground on Monday August 8, 2016.
Coach Mark Zinnamosca gives instructions to the Christian Crusaders football team during practice at the Westminster Playground on Monday August 8, 2016. (KEN KOONS/STAFF PHOTO / Carroll County Times)

Lewis travels with a teammate an hour and a half from West Virginia to participate with the Crusaders, and said the drive is worth it rather than missing out on the chance to play.

"I don't know where I'd be without football," Lewis said. "Here being in the right environment, it's really helped me grow as a person and as a football player as well. I know 'Coach Z' has had a lot to do with that as well and the teammates around here, everyone is looking out for each other and building each other up.


"It's a constant positive environment to be in."

At the conclusion of their games, they meet their opponent at midfield to give one another shout-outs, said Crusaders secretary and board member Patsy Will.

"Coming from the outside into this organization, people are blown away," Will said. "Sometimes you tend to have spatting and rivalries or anger with one another but we don't do that in our organization — we come to the middle of the field together."

Will is one of five members on the executive committee that oversees the organization and its operations. Each Crusaders player is expected to follow the board's rules and regulations to ensure a positive environment is practiced throughout.

That means no negative energy, poor language, or bad attitudes are permitted, and Will said that's what makes the organization unique.

"They play competitive high school football as seriously as any high school team," Will said. "We approach it more positively and it teaches them that when they walk away from this, it's not necessarily how great of a football player they can be, but if they grew from a boy to a man — if they gained leadership skills and became the kind of person to go out and make a difference.

"We're growing them into young Christian men to go out in the community and have an impact."



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