Ok, so the Chattanooga Patriots lost two games – by a combined 67 points – in last week’s Best of Preps basketball tournament, but that was easily predictable.
However, the Patriots crushed Red Bank in between those blowout losses.
That dominating performance was not expected.
Despite Red Bank’s own struggles this season, the more established Lions figured to cure some of their on-court ills by thrashing a bunch of home-schoolers on a team that includes two transplants from Connecticut and Massachusetts.
The Patriots are a rag-tag outfit. Their uniforms – which are not uniform from head-to-toe – are replaced on average every four years, and they're showing their age. Two players wear expensive neon yellow sneakers. Other players sport red ones, black ones, white ones, and dirty ones.
“We’ve had a few conversations about that,” said Patriots coach David Ambrosetti, a general contractor who played football, but wasn’t good enough to make his high school basketball team.
“We’ve got families who have the means to purchase whatever they want,” the coach said. “And we have families that can’t do that. I didn’t want a kid to feel bad because he couldn’t have all the things others could get. Those neon yellow shoes cost a hundred and fifty bucks. I wouldn’t pressure any parents, including me, to buy those.
“I want the kids to wear whatever shoes they can afford that make their feet feel good and make them play good basketball.”
Said senior Donovan Jones, who lives in East Ridge and played at Tennessee Temple High before joining the Patriots: “Some of us not having the money to buy stuff doesn't bother me. Once we’re on the floor, we just try to take care of business.”
The disjointed Patriots’ appearance lends to the notion that other teams don’t appreciate the opposition warming up at the other end of the court.
When playing on the road fans from opposing schools have on occasion mocked the Patriots, who began playing basketball eight years ago.
“Nobody respects us and I’ve actually heard people laugh at us,” said Jones, who was named to the BOP All-Tournament team. “That just makes us mad and we really want to beat those teams.”
Another Patriots player was just as blunt in the reception the team receives.
“Most people think we’re a garbage team,” said Aaron Ambrosetti, a junior and one of seven children of David and Angie Ambrosetti, who serves as the Patriots’ director of basketball operations was formerly the program's athletic director.
Maybe that’s how Red Bank approached the Patriots, who seized the moment and blasted the Lions, 68-41, in Friday’s loser’s bracket game behind Jones’ game-high 25-point effort. The Patriots led at halftime, 40-17.
When the tournament ended, Red Bank went 0-3 and the Patriots were 1-2.
“We had something to prove,” Aaron Ambrosetti said. “We came out swinging after playing lethargic the day before.”
The victory over Red Bank, if not a signature win, ranks among the top two or three for the Patriots, coach Ambrosetti said.
“Anytime you go against a public or private program and get a win it legitimizes what you’ve been trying to do for eight years,” he said. “It’s hard to build a program from scratch.”
The Patriots opened the tournament against eventual runner-up Baylor, and took a 61-20 pounding. After trailing by 13-11 after one quarter, the Patriots managed just three points in the second and third quarters and six in the fourth.
John Truax, a 6-foot senior who lives in Dayton, Tenn., after moving from Massachusetts, scored a team-high six points against the Red Raiders.
Truax is just happy to be playing basketball.
“There were no high school programs for home-school kids in Massachusetts,” said Truax, who averaged 9.3 points in three BOP games.
While on a trip to Tennessee to visit relatives, Truax was invited to attend a Patriots game by one of their players. He liked what he saw and became a part of the program when the opportunity arose.
“I’m so happy I found them,” Truax said. “I held my head high after we beat Red Bank. We wanted to make a name for ourselves the night before, but that fell apart against Baylor. Before the Red Bank gave I felt nervous because there was a big crowd out there. I had never played before that many people. We usually have about 50 people at our games and they are mostly the families of players.”
The Patriots could not maintain that momentum from thrashing Red Bank and lost to Boyd-Buchanan, 66-40, on Saturday in the game for fifth place.
“We started strong, but had two kids sick and, as they finally admitted to me, two kids who stayed up past 2 a.m. the night before playing Nintendo games,” Ambrosetti said. “We’re the Princeton of high school ball. We can pull an upset every now and then.”
Ambrosetti puts the Red Bank win near the top of his team’s “big victories,” along with those over Cumberland County, Notre Dame and Sale Creek.
Founded by the Ambrosettis in 2005, the Patriots played their first home schedule in a gym “with carpeted walls.” In their second year of existence, the Patriots went 25-16 and won the first of two National Association of Christian Athletes home-school championships in Dayton, Ohio.
On that team were Ryan and Adam Ambrosetti. At 23, Ryan is the oldest Ambrosetti sibling. Others are Alli (the lone daughter), Aaron, Braydon, Elijah and Ian, at 4 years of age, the youngest child.
“When Aaron graduates I’m going to hang it up as coach,” David Ambrosetti said.
Anthony Fears, who played on Brainerd’s 1984 state championship team, and Wayne Birkhead serves as assistant coaches. Each has a son playing for the Patriots – senior Collin Fears and sophomore Nick Birkhead.
The Fears’ moved from Hartford, Conn., to East Ridge several years ago.
“I’m extremely happy to be playing with the Patriots,” said Collin Fears, who had seven of his 11 tournament points against the Lions. “Beating Red Bank means a lot to us.”
The Patriots (8-8) next take the floor Saturday against the Knoxville Ambassadors and will play approximately 35 games, including two national postseason tournaments in Ohio and Lynchburg, Va.
A self-employed general contractor, Ambrosetti said the Patriots have won one title in Lynchburg and finished runner-up last season, and two championships in Ohio.
“That’s why we play anybody during the season to become a better team for when we go to those national tournaments,” he said.
To reach those destinations, they Patriots have to stuff their bank account during the season.
There is no outside financial support for the team. Most of the necessary operating funds are derived from two fundraisers – fruit sales and a silent auction/dinner. The remaining revenue comes from player fees, gate receipts and concessions.
“At the end of the year all that pays for our tournament fees, renting three gyms at the old Franklin Middle School, Oakwood Baptist Church, and Stuart Heights Baptist Church, referees, and we usually break about even,” the coach said.
There are between 1.73 and 2.35 million home-school students in the United States, according to the National Home Education Research Institute. An estimated 400 families, or 1,500 to 1,800 students, are represented by Chattanooga/Southeast Tennessee Home Education Association.
The Patriots also field teams in soccer, golf, tennis and cross country.
On Dec. 8, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association approved a proposal for home-school students to participate with member schools. A prospective student-athlete must be enrolled in a home-school study program, be registered with the local director of schools and offer proof of basic medical insurance coverage. “And they also have to make the team,” David Ambrosetti said.
“Hamilton County turned it down and then approved it. Right now our kids are allowed to play at public schools. My son (Aaron) could have played at Signal Mountain, but didn’t want to. An Alabama team we played lost a couple of players to public schools. (On the other hand), to draw kids from public school is a tall order. Home-schooling is not for everybody.”
(E-mail Larry Fleming at firstname.lastname@example.org)