Standout women’s lacrosse player Hannah Leubecker of Forest Hill had no place to play high school sports, until she found Fellowship of Christian Athletes’ sports ministry.
A homeschool student, Leubecker couldn’t play for a local high school. But she wanted to play lacrosse on more than just her club team, she said.
“I want to just develop and play,” Leubecker said. “This gives me the opportunity to do that.”
The FCA team functions like any other high school athletic team, said Tim Hines, the girls lacrosse coach.
They have games or practices every day after school and play other high school teams, mostly in the Interscholastic Athletic Association of Maryland, including private schools like Garrison Forest, Concordia Prep, Catholic High and Our Lady of Mount Carmel.
They don’t recruit players and they don’t cut players. They’ll take anyone, including students who have been cut from their home high school teams.
The skill level of the players on the girls lacrosse team is “all over the place,” Hines said.
“Some are just starting the game, others are coming up from rec and really need to be taught the game still,” he said. “And then we have a handful who are playing club somewhere and are pretty skilled players.”
That latter group includes Leubecker, 18, who Hines said is “about as good as they come.”
Leubecker, who plays attack, has played for Sky Walkers, one of the top club teams in the country. At age 14,committed to University of Maryland, which she’ll attend next year.
Of the roughly 180,000 Division I student-athletes, less than 1 percent identify as being homeschooled as of 2017, according to the NCAA.
“She’s exceptional,” Hines said. “She’s not the norm of players you will get. You might coach a player like her once in a coaching career.”
Through five FCA games this season, Leubecker has scored 40 goals and has 14 assists and 46 draws.
In 2017, Leubecker scored 108 goals and had 20 assists and 124 draws, leading her team to its first Capital Area Lacrosse League championship. She was named the league’s Most Valuable Player and also received first-team all-league honors.
Last season, she had 65 goals, 10 assists and 50 draws in nine games — she was out with a head injury half of the season. Leubecker also led her team to a second consecutive league championshipand was again named first-team all-league.
Leubecker was one of 36 players to make the 2019 U.S. Women’s U19 national training team, though she did not make the final roster of 18. She’s currently is ranked as the No. 7 senior in the nation by Inside Lacrosse.
On April 1, Leubecker was one of 21 players named to the USA Today 2019 All-USA preseason girls lacrosse team. On April 2, she was one of 11 players selected for Wave 1 of the 2019 Under Armour All-American Girls North/South game that will be played June 29 at Johns Hopkins University’s Homewood Field.
Leubecker has been playing lacrosse since she was 6 years old, and she’s been homeschooled since kindergarten.
She and her siblings — two brothers and a sister — each had the choice to go to public high school, but each chose not to.
Leubecker is happy with her decision to stay home-schooled, because it’s given her time to manage her classes and train for lacrosse.
She started playing with Fallston Recreation Council, then Bel Air travel and the Maryland Youth Lacrosse Association. A few years before high school, she started playing club lacrosse, first with Elite Lacrosse then with the Sky Walkers program, which she played for through the end of last summer, she said.
She switched to the Sky Walkers because “if I was going to develop and get attention needed to play in college, I needed a more prominent program,” Leubecker said.
In the fall of her freshman year, Leubecker committed verbally to University of Maryland, which offered her a partial scholarship.
It was pretty clear early on Leubecker was a natural athlete, her parents have told her. When she played rec soccer, another parent made a comment to the effect of ‘I didn’t know Pele’s daughter was on their team,” referring to Leubecker, she said.
“Those kids tend to stand out, you develop those talents,” Leubecker said. “Whether your parents are pushing you or not, if you want it, it’s something you work for.”
Leubecker’s parents have encouraged her and since her decision to pursue lacrosse in college, they pushed her to train and get better. Any time she wanted to go out and play, her dad would join her.
“Freshman year I was visiting colleges, they were asking me what I want to do, and I had no idea,” she said.
A few months away from her freshman year of college, Leubecker has an idea of what she wants to study — sports medicine and kinesiology — but will go to college undecided.
Leubecker may find playing college lacrosse isn’t for her and if she does, her parents are OK with it, she said.
For now, Leubecker is excited to play for Maryland.
“It’s an amazing program. They really care about the players as a person,” she said. “It’s so family-oriented. There’s not a lot of drama, no pressure. The more I hear about it, the more I like it.”
‘A great atmosphere’
Fellowship of Christian Athletes is an international organization, and “the main focus of its sports ministry is to reach coaches and athletes and introduce them to a relationship with Christ,” Hines said.
The regional FCA organization — Northern Maryland FCA — includes Baltimore, Harford and Cecil counties, though a few athletes come from the Washington, D.C., area, said Hines, of Parkville.
Fifteen years ago, the only organized sports available for homeschool students was the Maryland Christian Saints, which is under the FCA umbrella.
The FCA teams ministry began 13 to 14 years ago when it was approached by homeschool parents whose children didn’t have a place to play high school-level sports, Hines said.
According to the Maryland Public Secondary Schools Athletic Association, to play on a public school sports team, "Students shall be officially registered and attending a member MPSSAA member school. They may represent only the school in which they are registered and at which it is anticipated they will complete their graduation requirements."
Hines got involved in FCA 10 years ago when his daughters were attending a small Christian school.
“I approached FCA about some of the teams,” Hines said. “Other parents and I put together a girls lacrosse team, and a year later, a girls soccer team.”
In 2013, 30 states allowed homeschooled students to play for their school of residence, 20 did not, said Chris Boone, a spokesman for the National Federation of State High School Associations. Maryland was one of the states that did not.
Last year, 34 states said they allowed homeschool students to play for their school, while 13 did not. Maryland did not answer the survey in 2018.
“A lot of states have determined high school students can participate on their school of residence team,” Boone said.
Those that don’t allow it cite eligibility issues, Boone said, and how homeschool students meet the requirements of students in the buildings.
Today, Northern Maryland FCA teams ministry regionally has boys and girls cross country for middle school and high school students, girls basketball, boys soccer and softball, which started this spring.
The only place FCA recruits is on homeschool Facebook pages, and co-ops and schools that don’t have certain sports, Hines said.
The only players who are cut are from the baseball team, because they can only carry a certain number of players.
“We take everybody — we usually need people,” he said.
Three players on this year’s girls lacrosse team were cut from their private high school teams; one is going to play Division I in college, one Division II and one Division III.
FCA has given Leubecker the chance to play for a high school level team, her mother, Jodi Leubecker, said.
“It gives her more playing time, more practice,” she said. “We’re really thankful for it, definitely.”
She knows other parents are too, such as those whose children attend private schools that don’t have teams or attend schools with a high-level team where they know their child won’t play much.
“They’re thankful for the opportunity,” Jodi Leubecker said.
Hines would like to spread the word about the league, so more students can take advantage of the opportunity — especially from the homeschool community. More information can be found at http://www.nmdfca.org/.
“I just think our teams ministry has provide not only the opportunity, but also a great atmosphere for girls and guys where they can thrive in their sport, in relationships with each other and hopefully with God, their heavenly father,” Hines said.