Thursday, August 16, 2012

Kansan Q&A: New Muncie Christian Eagles basketball head coach Steve McCleary

Below is an interview with new Muncie Christian basketball head coach Steve McCleary.

Muncie Christian is a small Christian School in Kansas City, Kan. I've overlooked them coverage wise, but that will be changing in 2012-13.

Recently, the school almost closed down due to financial reasons. However, it was saved.

Below is our interview. Click "Read More" for the full interview.


Nick Sloan: Coach, give us some background about yourself and your program.

Steve McCleary: My name is Steve McCleary. I am 23 years old and I graduated from Muncie Christian School in 2007. I attended MCS from kindergarten through my senior year. I played soccer, basketball and baseball all four years of high school here, lettering in all three sports.

In all honesty, I don't intend for this to sound prideful in anyway, but I hold the career record for saves by a goalie in soccer, career points in basketball, most points in a game in basketball and the most career home runs in baseball.

These numbers are results of MCS providing a great opportunity for each athlete to play multiple sports each year. Clearly, holding these records at MCS is a little different than holding them at Washington or Harmon. But hey, that’s still pretty cool.

MCS is in the MO-KAN Christian Conference and also the Tri-State Christian Conference. The school itself has been a part of these two conferences at least since the early 90's.

With the school being a small private school, the attendance is truly a reflection of the economy.

In the late 90's and early 00's, we ran close to 200 students ever year, with about 80 of those being in high school. The current enrollment is just above 100. With this kind of fluctuation, the level of competition goes up and down, and often. In the early 00's we had a soccer team that saw 5-6 guys go on to play college ball. The boys varsity basketball team had a starting five of 6'10, 6'8, 6'6, 6'2, and 6'0. One player went on to play at a university and two others community college.

In 2006, we played the only game against a USD 500 school to my knowledge. We played Washington in our annual Christmas Classic tournament, and lost by 5 or 6. Our goal is to get back to the level of competition with some of the USD 500 schools.

From what I've read and seen in some record books, MCS has played soccer, basketball, and volleyball since the 60's. Unfortunately, there aren't many record books that we have from back then.

NS: What inspired you to become a basketball coach?

SM: The love for the game and this school both inspired me to coach basketball here. As an alumnus, I've always had a passion to get Muncie on the same level as KC Christian, Sunrise, and Maranatha Christian Academy. Those three have solidified themselves as the top Christian schools in Kansas. With Muncie being in Wyandotte County, I definitely realize it will be tough to get to their level.

The principal when I was at Muncie was Mr. Rex Vincent. He taught me so much about life, school, basketball, golf and much more. I love the guy for everything he did here at MCS, even if he is a K-State fan.

NS: Having looked at some of the teams Muncie has played, there are some familiar private schools on the list. Talk about how Muncie sets up their schedules each year?

SM: Like I mentioned before, we are a part of the MO-KAN and Tri-State conferences. We have had teams in MO-KAN from Olathe, Grandview, El Dorado (MO), Lee's Summit, Garden City, Overland Park, and Topeka. The Tri-State schools actually range from five different states, changing year by year based upon talent level and how many schools are interested in joining the conference.

We've had Blue Ridge Christian, KC Christian, Maranatha, Grace (OK), Wright Christian Academy (OK), Sunrise Christian Academy (Wichita) and Lee's Summit Community Christian to name the bigger Christian schools in Tri-State.

Many USD 500 schools either won't, or can't actually play us due to restrictions on their side of scheduling. Our plan is to establish Muncie as a competitive school in basketball, soccer, volleyball, and baseball and hopefully get public schools to come to our invitational tournaments.

NS: Since Muncie is such a small school, I imagine fielding some sports teams can be difficult sometimes. How difficult is it to get players out?

SM: In the last couple years it has been a challenge to get enough students to come out for soccer and baseball. Volleyball and basketball have never had an issue with getting enough students to play.

We actually had to shut down the baseball program a couple years back due to lack of interest by the students.

With the new direction the school is going, and now being affiliated with Praise Chapel Christian Fellowship, we definitely have high hopes for the future. With so many families in the KCK area being a part of the church and knowing of the church, we can only assume attendance will rise.

We are also hoping and praying the economy can continue to improve which we know will lead to more students and student-athletes.

NS: Obviously, there was a pretty big news story involving the school and the future of it recently. Do you believe the school being saved will help provide motivation for the athletes to compete even more and work harder?

SM: Definitely. The fact that we were literally a day away from seeing the doors close down forever should motivate everyone from the teachers to the athletes to work harder. We can't take this for granted.

My team knows what kind of year this is. We have a great shot a winning MO-KAN and Tri-State. With three senior starters, I don't think they need any extra motivation. I remember when I was a junior going into the first week of practice knowing that this was going to be our best year.

We all made a good impression on our coach when we voluntarily ran extra suicides because all we cared about was winning Tri-State. I hope this team takes that same approach into this season.

NS: If you can, talk about some of the players on your team coming back. Who are some the players you expect the step up this year?

SM: This is my first year coaching the team so I can't say from experience that one particular player will step up. But believe me when I say they will know by the end of the first practice that I expect each one of them to give their heart and soul into keeping their grades up and winning. De'Von Carter and Diamond Solomon are the leaders of this team and are expected to set an example to the underclassman how to practice, how to study the game and how to have a good time while doing it. I know these guys love the game and I'm very excited to see what we can do this year.

NS: Muncie has been under the radar for most fans of KCK sports, including us here at KCK Preps unfortunately. Sell the community on the idea of coming out to the school and checking out some games? 

SM: Just as any other high school in Wyandotte County, we love to see a packed out gym. If you don’t have a direct connection to the school or a player we still welcome anyone out to any sporting event we have.

Going to a small Christian school shouldn’t mean that a kid with talent should go under the radar or unseen because of lack of exposure. Muncie has produced quite a few standout athletes in the KCK area. I played junior high and junior varsity basketball with Neil Watson (Southern Mississippi) and Caleb Mills who went on to play at Sumner Academy and Matthew Cauqulin who went on to play at Bonner Springs High and KCKCC. Recent Bonner Springs graduate B.J. Watson even attended MCS at one point when he was pretty young.

I completely understand why the parents pulled their kids out and sent them to a bigger school for basketball. My goal is to get Muncie to the point where our athletes won’t have to leave to get the exposure they deserve.

With the support of KCK Preps, the Kansas City Kansan, and the Wyandotte County community, I believe we can establish a respectable athletic program here at MCS.