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David Stephenson

Not all national basketball tournaments were canceled. The National Association of Christian Athletes based in Rhea County completed its postseason high school tournaments before the coronavirus concerns prompted the freezing of virtually all sports worldwide.

Which is particularly good because the basketball tourneys are the 40-year-old organization's top revenue producer.

Three teams from longtime NACA power Hamilton Heights Christian Academy of Chattanooga won the boys' Division 1 (of eight) and girls' divisions 1 and 2 (of seven) in competition that included participants from as far away as Florida, New York, Wisconsin and Texas. They played at NACA's home base of Fort Bluff Camp near Dayton, Bryan College in Dayton and area schools and churches.

"As of now we are still planning on hosting our golf tournament April 26-28, which is for individuals and teams. Then our next big tournaments would be baseball, softball and soccer on May 5-8," NACA assistant director David Stephenson said. "As of now we are still planning for those events to take place. Obviously we are hoping and praying that they will, since the majority of our revenue comes from hosting these national tournaments throughout the year."

Fall events include football, volleyball and cross country.

Finishing basketball was "a blessing," Stephenson added, but he expressed empathy for all those negatively affected by the COVID-19 pandemic.

"Everyone at NACA is trying to be supportive and encouraging to all of the coaches, athletic directors and players impacted during this time," he said.

Last year at this time, Stephenson was wrapping up the 12th and final year of intercollegiate sports at Georgia Northwestern Technical College, where he was the athletic director and men's basketball coach the whole time and also coached women's basketball in the latter years. He was the first person hired for GNTC sports and the last to leave, at the end of July 2019.

Starting with volleyball and men's basketball in 2007 when then-GNTC president Ray Brooks wanted "to make the college have a more traditional campus feel and give local athletes a chance to play college athletics," in Stephenson's words, the school was represented honorably by more than 500 student-athletes in basketball, volleyball, golf and competitive cheer.

Sports costs were completely covered by activity and athletic fees and sponsorships, Stephenson said, so there was no drain on the multicampus college's budget. His first basketball team, in a state-tech-college league he served as commissioner, went undefeated. The Bobcats golfers went to national tournaments four times, and the cheer squad also went to multiple nationals — and won one. Ten GNTC athletes were Academic All-Americans.

"We were never over budget, never had any problems with the athletes or staff, never had one accident or bus issue on the road, and our athletes did over 40 community-service projects," Stephenson said at the time of his departure.

Still, one of Brooks' successors as president, a man who had been generally supportive, decided on the way to retirement to pull the plug on Bobcats sports after the 2018-19 school year. He told Stephenson in spring 2018 but didn't want it publicized, preferring to let the public find out one prospect at a time.

Stephenson stayed until the end, though, and then started looking for another job in coaching or sports administration.

The NACA hiring "was all a God thing," he said, noting it began with a touch-base conversation with longtime national director and executive director Dave Sekura about potential other possibilities. As a high school coach Stephenson had taken teams to NACA nationals from 1999 to 2002.

"Coach Stephenson has 33 years of coaching experience on both the high school and college levels. He has established athletic programs at Christian schools and has served as athletic director in both high school and college programs," Sekura said. "David's vast experience and many contacts will benefit the NACA as we grow our tournaments and continue to improve our events.

"David will be mobile visiting with coaches, encouraging them in their ministry with athletes as well as promoting the NACA as an opportunity for their teams."

Contact Ron Bush at rbush@timesfreepress.com or 423-757-6291.

 

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