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How a Christian high school in Kansas became a basketball powerhouse

(REVIEW) Can you name one of the best boy’s basketball teams in the nation?

You may have never heard of the school, but that’s what makes their story an even better one. Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas, has the numbers and alums to prove it is a powerhouse. Now there’s a new documentary that takes viewers into what makes this school so special.

The focus of a new mini-documentary by the Herzog Foundation — available now on YouTube — chronicles the basketball program and how this Christian school became the envy of nearly every high school team in the nation. It is an inspiring mini doc and one that rightly shines the spotlight on something positive that’s happening around teenagers.

In a world in which teens are often involved in crime or drugs, this documentary is both a gift and an inspiration. In an age when so many sports documentaries get the chance to be seen on streaming services, “Sunrise on a Mission” can easily be overlooked given the abundance of options, but it shouldn’t be.

READ: How faith changed the lives of Jayhawk teammates

It isn’t — at least it shouldn’t be — all that surprising that a faith-based high school has been able to produce a wonderful winning basketball program. Many Catholic high schools in urban centers like New York and Philadelphia have produced winning teams for decades. Other Christian-based high schools, like Carmel Christian School in North Carolina and Calvary Christian Academy in Florida, have also been very successful in recent years.

The most famous basketball documentary — at least when it comes to ones that focus on high school players — ever could very well be “Hoops Dreams.” The 1994 documentary, which follows the story of two African American high school students in Chicago and their dream of becoming professional basketball players, was originally intended to be just 30 minutes in length. Instead, it was made into a 171-minute film that took five years to put together.

“Sunrise on a Mission” is less gritty and much shorter — it clocks in at just over seven minutes — and that could be its only real flaw. It would have been great had the documentary lasted at least another 20 minutes so the viewer could get a little deeper into the lives and faith of some of the players. Although this doc has an infomercial feel at times, that shouldn’t take away from its focus on how great this program has been in the youth sports landscape.

The film does feature interviews with coaches and players, including one with Gatorade National Player of the Year Grady Dick, a 6-foot-8-inch small forward who’s headed to the University of Kansas this fall.

“Just the fact that we get to learn about Christ and read the Bible and study different topics within the Bible every single day — we start early, and then every Wednesday, we have chapel also,” Dick says. “It’s like they’re feeding us every day.”

The team reached the quarterfinals of the Geico High School Nationals this spring, where the country’s top teams compete each year. Last year’s team was led by guard Kendall Brown and point guard Kennedy Chandler, players who went on to play NCAA Division I ball at Baylor and Tennessee, respectively. Brown and Chandler are expected to be drafted into the NBA come June.

While the basketball team’s success could be a miracle, the school as a whole is as well. Founded in 1983 with just a handful of students, Sunrise Christian Academy grew over the years.

“We don’t need all kids that are all straight A’s,” Robert Lindsted, the school’s founder, says in the film. “We need kids that do their best and that say, ‘God has built me in this way.’”

“Sunrise on a Mission” is one of those hidden gems that can be appealing to both those who love basketball and those who don’t. What it also does is spotlight Christian education and the good that can come out of such a setting for students looking for an alternative to public education.

–Clemente Lisi is a senior editor and regular contributor to Religion Unplugged. He is the former deputy head of news at the New York Daily News and teaches journalism at The King’s College in New York City. Follow him on Twitter @ClementeLisi.