WAITSBURG — Since joining the Waitsburg-Prescott athletic combine in 2009, Jubilee Christian’s student-athletes have benefitted greatly from participating in sports at W-P, according to Jubilee athletic director Mark Hauk.
Graduation and retention rates for student athletes far outpace those not participating in team sports, and provide both an incentive for students to toe the line at the Jubilee Youth Ranch, and a way for some to blow off steam away from the disciplinarian boarding school, he said.
But now Waitsburg-Prescott is benefitting in more ways than one from its new addition.
W-P is already seeing the fruit of including Jubilee students in W-P quarterback Stirling Eastman.
But nowhere has Jubilee’s impact been greater than the W-P cross country team.
Four of the runners on the seven-member boys team that will be competing at the Class 2B state meet in Pasco Saturday at 11:30 a.m. are Jubilee runners. The team must have at least five runners to compete as a team.
Simple math says that without Jubilee, W-P wouldn’t be fielding a team at state.
But more so than just their contribution on the running trails, Tewedros McDowell, Kevin Kamel, Cory Braxton and Jacob Dingfield bring a bit of perspective and diversity to the squad.
All have gone down different routs to get to Jubilee.
McDowell, a freshman in his first year of cross country, has quickly risen to be the team’s No. 2 runner behind only senior Seth Deal. He was adopted from Ethiopia at the age of 10 by a North Seattle family. Now 16, McDowell was sent to Jubilee disrespecting his parents and stealing, he said.
He’s now in his second year at Jubilee.
“It’s hard,” McDowell said of attending the boarding school. “At first when I got there, I didn’t want to be there, but I got used to it.”
“Just getting off campus from Jubilee has been fun,” McDowell said. “The coach (Joanna Lanning) is great. She’s really nice, I can’t describe how she is.”
Dingfield is another Ethiopian adoptee, although he was adopted by a couple in Medical Lake, Wash., near Spokane. Dingfield, the No. 6 runner, bares the scars of severe burn trauma he suffered as a child when he fell into a campfire.
Talking to him, it’s hard to see how he ended up at Jubilee, but he said he struggled with obedience to his adopted parents.
Dingfield said the thing that bothered him most about being at Jubilee was just being away from home.
“It’s actually a pretty nice place, it’s just that I miss home so much I see it as sort of a bad place,” Dingfield said. “They do a lot for you to help you go through what you need to go through.”
Kamel was born in California, but moved shortly thereafter to Egypt with his parents. He moved back to Huntington Beach, Calif., with his mother at age 11 and eventually ran into trouble with the law and his mother.
A freshman, he’s W-P’s No. 7 runner after taking up the sport just this year.
For Kamel, his stay at Jubilee has been a chance to reflect on his life in California.
“It gives you a chance to think about all the stuff that you did back at home,” Kamel said. “They have a class called Value Words: self control, honesty, forgiveness, accountability, and integrity. It’s kind of like a new way to learn things to take back home — not to do the same thing you did when you go back home.”
Corey Braxton is the lone sophomore and the only Jubilee student on the team not to have lived overseas at some point.
His 40th-place finish at the District 7/9 championship was the fourth-best for W-P and helped propel the team to a state invite. But Braxton, originally from Chicago, is still struggling to adapt to boarding school life and has missed several practices and meets due to disciplinary issues.
Braxton moved to New Mexico with his mother, who is in the Navy, before his eighth-grade year and fell in with the wrong crowd.
Even though he admits he has trouble doing right sometimes, Braxton still has big goals in life.
“My goal one day is to become an actor, but, you know, I’m not doing anything right now to support that,” Braxton said. “But one of my other main goals is to be in the Olympics for running and swimming. So I’m definitely sound on that now. It would also be nice if I could get a scholarship for running, too.”
For Lanning, coaching the Jubilee athletes has been both challenging and rewarding.
Normally, Lanning gets athletes from middle school until they graduate high school, but most Jubilee students are in a hurry to return home and usually complete just one year at the youth ranch.
In addition to cross country coach, Lanning now has roles as a disciplinarian and sometimes psychologist.
“You have to put yourself in their place and try and understand why maybe there’s something else going on,” Lanning said. “And I try to work with them because I want their best interests at heart. I don’t want to get mad and say, ‘You’re off the team, I don’t want to see you any more, you’re causing me a headache.’
“Maybe sometimes I’m too lenient,” Lanning said.
In total, 14 Jubilee students are competing with Waitsburg-Prescott athletes this fall.
Jubilee has steadily worked back into athletics after dropping its own 8-man football team after 2007 due to a lack of interest.
In 2008, the ranch had no athletic program, and in 2009 the marriage to W-P was a non-starter after all but one athlete was removed from the football and basketball programs for disciplinary reasons.
Jubilee athletic director Mark Hauk said Stirling Eastman’s older brother, Shane, helped turn the program around in 2010 by setting a positive example for other athletes.
Since then, Jubilee has been competing in more sports.
This year, Jubilee will have athletes in football, basketball, cross country, wrestling, track and baseball.
The most telling sign of a positive impact on Jubilee students has been how many have returned for an additional year of boarding school after competing in sports.
According to Hauk, 35 of the 41 student-athletes have either graduated with a high school diploma or returned for an additional year at the school.
That alone has helped boost the school’s enrollment level from 28 in 2009 to more than 50 students today.