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Heartland Christian's Wertz up to par

By CONOR NICHOLL

cnicholl@dailynews.net

LOGAN -- Sophomore Blaine Wertz ran a personal-best 11.18 seconds to win the 100-meter dash at the Logan Invitational on Tuesday. He edged Rexford-Golden Plains senior Andrew Luna and Almena-Northern Valley junior Jordan Baird, two of the area's top small school athletes.

While Luna and Baird, like virtually all of the state, have schools and teams and compete in the Kansas State High School Activities Association, Wertz has found success in a different way with Heartland Christian out of Colby.

"I am very proud of my school, so I want to get something for them," Wertz said. "They've done a good job training me."

Heartland Christian has 63 on-campus students in preschool through 12th grade. Then, several families, especially from Colby and Quinter, home school their children, but affiliate with Heartland Christian for athletics. The on-campus school has just three high school boys, but the home school families help the Crusaders have sports teams.

The Wertz family, home to six siblings, lives in Quinter. Blaine and his twin brother, Matt, and their sibling, Corey, all currently participate in sports with the Crusaders.

"We are pretty committed to home schooling," Wertz said. "... My parents, they have a good influence on me and teaching me everything that I need to know."

Sometimes, Wertz practices in Quinter. Occasionally, he will come to Colby for practice with the Crusaders, who offer football, boys' and girls' basketball, track and, depending on numbers, cheerleading. In track, Heartland Christian practices only a couple times a week.

"We try to keep it very family-friendly," Heartland Christian athletic director Deena Bandy said. "I think that's attractive to some of the families who chose to home school."

Sometimes, the team practices in the last block of school. The team tries to avoid practice Wednesday so families can devote time to church. Colby High School and Colby Community College lets the Crusaders use their facilities, although Heartland Christian can't use the facilities until around 6 p.m., after the high school and community college are finished. If Heartland Christian doesn't use Colby's facilities, it has to use a grass field for track practice.

"I get my workouts, some of them are on a real track in Quinter," Wertz said. "Grass is not fun to run on and our field is kind of bumpy, so we don't really do any hard workouts on it, because we don't want to risk our ankles."

The school is in the process of looking to purchase some track equipment. The coaches are volunteer for all sports.

"We have great coaches," Bandy said. "They want to help the kids and they want to see them do well."

Bandy, who has been involved as a parent at Heartland Christian for seven years, has seen sports grow. The football team, which plays a mixture of KSHSAA varsity and junior varsity teams, didn't have a program in 2010. Then, it went 3-4 in 2011.

Last year, Bandy said the team had just one senior and no juniors, but plenty of speed including the three Wertz brothers. Bandy said the "biggest guy was maybe 150 soaking wet," but the team went 7-0, including a 46-42 victory against Triplains-Brewster, according to kansasprepfootball.com.

"A big part of it too is convincing people that it is worth it, that sports are worth it," Bandy said.

"The kids, they thrive in it, but then it's just an avenue for us to connect with the community and our surrounding communities and then obviously the effect that sports can bring through perseverance and commitment."

The basketball team didn't win a game, though Wertz continued to impress Bandy with his work ethic. Once after basketball practice, Bandy saw Wertz running sprints by himself. Wertz wasn't in trouble; he just wanted to do extra.

"Two things, he is very naturally talented, but he works hard," Bandy said.

Since Heartland Christian is part of the Kansas Christian Athletic Association, it can't participate in KSHSAA regionals or state later this month. Their track season ends next week at the Western Kansas Liberty League meet, also at Logan. For Wertz, the goals are simply competing well for his school in the 100, 200, long jump and 400-meter relay in the final 10 days of his track season.

"I want to keep it down in the 11.1s and improve on my long jump," Wertz said. "My long jump hasn't been doing very good this year, so I want to improve on that."