Fall 2022

Mini documentary chronicles rise of faith-based basketball power Sunrise Christian Academy

At first glance, Sunrise Christian Academy in Bel Aire, Kansas, may not have the appearance of a basketball powerhouse that some of the best high school players in the country call home. The numbers say differently.

Sunrise has produced more than 100 Division I players, including two five-star and five four-star recruits in the past three recruiting cycles, according to ESPN’s rankings.

>> Subscribe to Sports Spectrum Magazine for more stories where sports and faith connect <<

Head coach Luke Barnwell only has one explanation for how the program now finds itself competing with the likes of IMG Academy, Montverde Academy and Oak Hill Academy.

“I think [God has] blessed us for sure,” he said in a recently-released feature story and mini documentary on the school. “When you have the crazy results that we have, it doesn’t scientifically or mathematically make sense. There has to be a blessing.”

Last year’s team was led by Kendall Brown and Kennedy Chandler, who went on to play for Baylor and Tennessee, respectively. Both are projected first-round picks in June’s NBA draft.

Brown and Chandler teamed up with Kansas’ Zach Clemence and Michigan State’s Jaden Akins to lead Sunrise to the GEICO Nationals championship game, coming up one win short of a national title.

With the loss of so much talent, Barnwell was not expecting this year’s team to replicate the success of the 2020-21 squad. Instead, they entered the national tournament as the No. 1 overall seed. A loss in the quarterfinals, however, ultimately prevented a return to the championship game.

Even with the departure of four top-100 recruits, the 2021-22 team wasn’t lacking for talent. Kansas commit Gradey Dick was named Gatorade National Player of the Year. Fellow McDonald’s All-American Mark Mitchell is heading to Duke. Dillon Hunter (Baylor) and Cameron Corhen (Florida State) are ranked in the top 100 by ESPN as well.

Part of what draws players to Sunrise is having the opportunity to discuss and grow in their faith while they continue to develop on the court.

“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 said. “It’s like they’re feeding us every day.”

Dr. Robert Lindsted, Sunrise’s founder and superintendent, didn’t set out to create a school to house an elite basketball program. In fact, he didn’t even call it a school at first. But more and more kids kept showing up, which led Lindsted to conclude God was calling him to turn Sunrise into a fully-fledged school.

“Everything is built on truth, and the absolute truth really is the Bible,” Lindsted said. “And I look at the acceptance of students that come to a Christian school. We don’t need all kids that are all straight A’s. We need kids that do their best and that say, ‘God has built me in this way.'”

Barnwell still marvels at the position he finds himself in and gives all the glory to God for directing the steps of his journey.

I came to Sunrise from a small town in Kansas,” he told Sports Spectrum Magazine for a “Heart of a Coach” Q&A in the Winter 2019 issue. “I would have never envisioned all the things God has blessed me with and the things I’ve been able to do. The word ‘impossible’ is a very humanly word. God continually tears this idea down in my own life as I realize I’ve been able to be a part of a lot of great things all because of Him.”

RELATED STORIES: 
Kansas completes historic championship game comeback, led by faith-driven Jalen Wilson
Kentucky’s Oscar Tshiebwe sweeps player of the year awards: ‘I thank God for this moment’
Coach Dawn Staley after South Carolina wins national title: ‘Our path was divinely ordered’
Athletes in Action to launch prep basketball academy in 2022, including ‘spiritual training’
Purdue star Jaden Ivey declares for NBA draft, thanks God for ‘blessing me with the ability’