Published 12:00 am Monday, October 25, 2004

Small Reserve Christian team getting national attention for level of success



RESERVE – When you drive into the parking lot at Reserve Christian Church and School, the bumpy, gravel road doesn’t do much to impress you.

The church lies right on Airline Highway to the west of LaPlace, on the outskirts of Reserve, and is only slightly noticeable for those driving by.

So even more surprising is the fact that far to the back of the campus lies a gymnasium which houses a class-B basketball program that is garnering national attention.

Not only has the team coached by former 1980s East St. John High School sports superstar Tim Byrd been dominating the class-B landscape in Louisiana, but the program is also producing players that are now rating among the best in the country.

This past week saw the Eagles begin a new season, heading for what many predict will be their third state championship in the past four years. Most observers believe the string of state titles should be three in a row, had Reserve Christian not been found ineligible for playoffs last season on the first date the playoffs were set to begin.

That controversial incident was due to a pair of foreign exchange students on the team, who had played all year fully registered with the LHSAA. However on the day of the playoff opener, the Eagles were suddenly told that the players were not actually eligible as foreign exchange students, and therefore, the squad would not be allowed to compete for its third straight state championship.

But regardless of that disappointment, the program at Reserve Christian is a unique one, to say the least. So good have they become on a national front, the club is now being invited to some of the top national tournaments during the year, traveling as far away as Delaware to showcase their talent.

However, that is where the difference for this team begins. For all the success the team has had, Byrd makes it clear that winning is not the top goal for the team.

“Success here, and how the world views it, is very different,” he said. “Even though we have been successful in terms of winning, our program is not about that. It is about developing character in players, and hopefully having a positive effect on them for their entire lives.”

Byrd, a devout Christian himself, said that the principle in the Bible of Jesus Christ laying down his life for mankind, is the principle they build their team on.

“We teach our kids to lay their lives down for each other on the court. It teaches them to not be selfish, it teaches them character and sacrificing for others, and it teaches them to be leaders. Our success on the court in terms of wins is a direct result of that,” he remarked.

In the past nine years since Byrd came to the school, he has turned the club into a model that others would undoubtedly like to follow. The school had a 4-16 record the year before he came to Reserve Christian, but since that time, he has never had a losing season, and made the state playoffs every year he has coached.

He took the team to the state semi-finals in only his first year that the team joined the LHSAA in 1998, and has made the club a state power by winning state championships two of the past three years.

“It’s all about holding kids accountable, and teaching them Christian morals as individuals. Those traits will naturally translate into strong qualities on the court,” Byrd related. “That has worked for me all my life, and it works now for these kids.”

The team was never tested so much as last year when they were all set to begin a run at a third straight state title, and then the news from the LHSAA was handed down.

“When I met with the kids that day, I think they knew what I was going to say,” he said. “There was crying, there was weeping. But we just told them to emphasize the relationships they had had during the year, getting to play in three national tournaments, beating the number two and number six teams in the country. Sure, it was a disappointing thing, but now I think it probably happened to show us all that what we are doing here is more about the process with the players, than it is about winning.”

Byrd said he is especially proud of the fact that in his 10 years at the school, every senior on his teams have gone on to college.

“These kids mature to the point that they want to succeed in life, and they want to go to college,” he said. “Our mindset is to never give up in anything you do, to always strive for excellence and to give everything your best, as unto the Lord.”

But as for the team, this year’s edition of the Eagles looks like it could be the best ever, and Byrd will have the team as ready for the playoffs as ever. Not only will the club go to national tournaments in Florida, Ohio and Arkansas among several events, but his non-district schedule is peppered with 5A opponents such as Holy Cross, Rummel, Ellender and Slidell High.

Leading the way this year will be a young man who is already getting a ton of national Division I attention.

Demond “Tweetie” Carter, a 5-10 junior point guard, has a resume of accomplishments already as long as a graduated senior. Named the Freshman Player of the Year by Student Sports Magazine two years ago, he has been an all-state player since his eighth grade season.

He averaged 23 points a game last year and has already scored over 4,500 career points, currently aiming at a chance to become the all-time top prep scorer nationally. He played in the Olympic USA Festival among a host of national tournaments last summer with his AAU team, including the prestigious Slam Dunk Tournament in Delaware last year.

Along with Carter, 6-5 sophomore guard Kevin Branch has been rated as high as the number two guard in the state, then the rest of the starting lineup is rounded out by 6-4 Konstintinos Brozos, a junior forward from Greece; 6-5 Justin Porter, a junior center; and 6-2 Aaron Washington, a junior forward.

The team has already been invited to play in the New Orleans Arena on January 8 against Brother Martin before a New Orleans Hornets game, and previously played in Minnesota before a Timberwolves tame.

They are even a designated Nike sponsored program along with receiving numerous invites to the national tournaments year-round.

But for all the attention and success, Byrd’s toughest challenge is probably to continue and keep the team focused and grounded on what he believes got them to this position.

“It can be hard to stay humble through what success we’ve had, and we certainly seem to get persecuted and criticized by others at times. But just like Jesus was persecuted, we expect the same at times since we stand up and take a Christian stand as the most important aspect of what we do,” Byrd noted. “But we don’t think we are better than others, and we definitely are not trying to act like we are better. We just want our kids to be the best that we can be.”

Contrary to some beliefs, the school does not give any scholarships out.

“The kids we have here come just because they want to be here,” Byrd added. “If this was all about winning, we would be looking for the best kids around. We don’t do that, but it’s amazing how really talented kids just seem to pop up here each year. I think God is blessing us for the attitude we have running the program, and that is just how we will continue to operate.”