This spring, the St. Louis Patriots claimed the brand new Hendricks Cup trophy that goes to the winner of the Division 1 Homeschool World Series.
They clinched that victory in Auburndale, Florida, by defeating the Tulsa Jaguars 6-1. Upon their return to Missouri, the team traveled to Jefferson City to meet with and be honored by Gov. Mike Parson.
The Patriots are composed of students mostly from the region’s western corridor – Chesterfield, O’Fallon, St. Peters, Lake Saint Louis and St. Charles County, but some are from Jefferson County; south St. Louis; Washington, Missouri; and even Illinois.
Four Patriots – Jack Schark, Nathaniel Caraballo, Abraham Fischer and Reed Weston – were honored as all-Americans for their play.
“It was really cool meeting the governor, a really special experience,” said Schark, who plays shortstop and is the Patriots’ closer. “We were very thankful for the opportunity. It was an honor, as a homeschool team, to get that recognition.
“I have always been homeschooled. I like it and since I was never in school, I don’t know anything different. I have never had any issues with homeschooling and I’ve always enjoyed it. I’ve got three brothers so growing up with them being homeschooled has been really fun.”
Mark Valle is the Patriots’ head coach. He also is the athletic director of the Patriots’ program that has varsity, junior varsity, freshman, eighth- and seventh-grade teams. The Patriots’ system includes more than 150 players, including those who participate in the youth 6-under through 12-under summer teams.
The organization has a philosophy. Everyone follows four pillars: honor God, have fun, play smart and play hard.
Valle is proud of what the team accomplished in Florida. “National Champions. That’s a pretty big deal,” he said. Schark agreed.
“It’s really special. We had a great group of guys going in. Just had a lot of fun playing for each other,” Schark said. “Couldn’t ask for better teammates or a better season.”
Weston, of St. Peters, is a starting pitcher, backup second baseman and, because of injuries of some teammates, started in left field most of the season. He also likes what the team did together.
“One thing about the guys that was so special is we truly played as a team,” Weston said. “We didn’t have any ‘me guys.’ We all played for each other and encouraged each other bringing lots of energy, which impacted the way we played. Truly honored to be part of a team that I consider the guys my brothers.”
At the World Series, the difference between Division I and II varies from year to year depending on how you perform in the first part of the week, Valle said.
“You have two pool games and a qualifier game. After pool games they rank the top 16 teams, 1 plays 16, 2 plays 15, and so on,” Valle said. “The winner moves on to Division I and the loser goes to Division II. Everyone else is put in Division III.”
Heading into the Florida tournament, Valle believed his Patriots could win it all. They had a good record and played a “pretty good” schedule.
The Patriots won their pool play games with an 11-1 beating of the Baltimore Chargers and a 9-2 win over the Austin Texans. In its qualifier game, St. Louis scored a 6-1 victory over the Fort Worth Riders.
“We played two solid games, good pitching, good defense and hit the ball pretty well, two big innings in each game put them to bed,” Valle said. “In the qualifier game, top of the lineup – Jack Schark, Jack Wood and Nathaniel Caraballo – had a great day. Caleb Dickmann made multiple great plays at third that kept (Fort Worth) from scoring.”
In the quarterfinal, St. Louis had its toughest test but prevailed with a 5-4 win over the Dallas Angels. Valle said the Patriots gave up the lead in the fifth inning after an error and a couple of hits. So Valle made a pitching change.
“We brought Jack in to get us out of the inning,” Valle said. “We were down one in the top (of the) seventh. Jack led off with a triple and the cutoff man turned to throw and realized Jack was already there, but when he did the ball came out of his hand and rolled away, Jack scored to tie.”
Wood followed with a double. Caraballo’s deep fly ball advanced Wood to third base. Dickmann hit a double to score Wood.
Then, Schark went back to the mound. He got two quick outs. Then, gave up a double. But he got the next batter to ground out to preserve the victory.
Schark took it all in and enjoyed the experience.
“It was awesome. That was one of the biggest at-bats of my life, and it was nice to see all the hard work pay off,” Schark said. “Everyone in front of me was doing the right thing and got on base, and I just got up at the right time in the right situation.”
Weston succinctly summed up Schark’s performance in the game and in the series.
“Jack Schark is a stud,” Weston said.
St. Louis rolled through its semifinal opponent the Northside (Houston, Texas) Falcons to nail down its berth in the title game with a 10-4 win. Valle reminded his team that hardly anyone gets an opportunity to win a national championship and he reminded them of the team’s four pillars.
In the championship game, Abe Fischer allowed just four hits, struck out seven and allowed one walk. The top of the order did its thing with Schark collecting three hits, and Wood and Dickmann each adding two hits.
“It was the least stressful game of all of them,” Schark said. “Abe Fischer pitched a great game and everyone else was just taking care of business, and we came out on top.”
When it was over, the celebration began.
“They went crazy; it was fun watching them,” Valle said. “They dog-piled, got T-shirts, got the trophy. Lots of fun. I was fine until my coaches hugged my neck and said, ‘Coach we did it!’ Then, I lost it. Lots of emotion.”
Valle received the traditional postgame bath.
“They got me with the Gatorade, and then they got me again,” Valle said. “They schemed and all had Mountain Dews and lured me into the huddle and sprayed me. Great memories.”
Schark hit .600 for the week with three triples, a double, 10 runs scored and 5 RBIs as the leadoff hitter. He played a solid shortstop.
“It was a great series. I just took it one at-bat at a time, playing for my teammates and coaches because they, everybody put in so much hard work,” said Schark, who has signed to play in college with the University of Central Missouri. “It was nice to see all the hard work pay off.”
Caraballo had eight RBIs and caught every game. He also threw a couple runners out stealing. Fischer, won two games including the gem in the championship game. In 12.1 innings pitched, he allowed only two earned runs on 10 hits and two walks while striking out 10. Wood hit .333 with 7 RBIs and he scored nine runs.
Weston, pitched in two games and contributed offensively.
“I was able to have a pretty good week in the tournament,” Weston said. “My main goal was to just give my all for the team and leave it all out on the field so it was a great team win. Being named all-American was a pretty cool experience I was not expecting it at all. So that was definitely a big honor.”
All that made for a happy flight back to St. Louis.
“My assistant coaches, CJ Mund and Charlie Schark, carried the trophy on the flight with us,” Valle said. “No way they were letting anyone else have it.”
The Patriots finished the season at 33-5. The club won four out of five tournaments it played in, going 18-1 in those tournaments.