STORM CENTER: A COLUMN BY SPORTS EDITOR ERIC VICCARO
Mark Valle began helping out with the St. Louis Patriots homeschool baseball program during its 2009 season.
These days, Valle serves as the Patriots’ director, with teams for players from six years old all the way through high school age. The varsity squad has a robust 11-3 record this season.
Twice this year, the Patriots have played at Yanks Field in Ste. Genevieve — defeating the Dragons both times, including once during the Old Settlement Tournament.
“I’ve got a lot of memories and friends here,” Valle said. “It’s like a reunion when I come back. I see friends, some friends I haven’t seen in two years or more.”
Valle graduated from Ste. Genevieve High School in 1988. He was a freshman on the baseball team when current University of Missouri coach Steve Bieser was a senior.
“Football was king back then,” Valle joked.
He said the creation of the RiverDogs’ baseball program has helped put baseball on firm footing with the Ste. Genevieve County sports landscape.
Valle played virtually every position at Ste. Genevieve under then head coach Mike Sherry; but, he was mainly a pitcher.
“I was one of those guys that got the most out of my ability,” Valle said. “I think I overachieved. I didn’t throw that hard (with a fastball in the mid-80s mph). I threw four pitches, but I could throw all of them for strikes.”
Valle’s signature was a split-fingered fastball, which was considered the “glamour pitch” of the 1980s. He was an all-district and all-conference player.
After graduating from Ste. Genevieve, Valle played for one season at Mineral Area College in Park Hills and then three years at Maryville University.
“My senior year at Maryville, we won the conference tournament,” said Valle, recalling a time when that school was a member of NAIA — before joining NCAA Division II.
Valle worked as a warehouse manager before the opportunity came up to be a part of the Patriots.
“I work part-time as a courier for Lou Fusz,” he said. “The Patriots, it’s a full-time job. I am the athletic director. We have varsity, junior varsity, freshman, eighth- and seventh-grade teams. We have youth 6-under through 12-under teams in the summer.”
Overall, Valle estimates more than 150 players are a part of the Patriots’ system, which features all homeschooled athletes.
Valle wanted to make perfectly clear, recruiting isn’t taking place in any form or shape. Mainly, it’s the parents who seek out the Patriot way for their children.
The team plays a mix of Missouri and Illinois schools, with the varsity squad competing in a 40-game schedule.
The Patriots practice at Gateway Legacy Christian.
Home games are at the Bridgeton Municipal Athletic Complex (BMAC).
“It’s one of the best grass fields around, and the groundskeepers have worked at Busch Stadium,” Valle noted.
Coaching homeschool athletes has taught Valle how to be flexible, especially since they “have a lot going on.” These students are enrolled in college-level classes and co-ops.
The Patriots even have classroom time themselves, with baseball and devotionals at the center of instruction.
The organization has four pillars: honor God, have fun, play smart and play hard.
During the middle of the last decade, the Missouri State High School Activities Association allowed homeschooled teams to schedule games versus schools like Ste. Genevieve and Valle Catholic.
The Patriots will compete in the Homeschool World Series, which is set for April 26-May 1, 2021 at Lake Myrtle Sports Park in Auburndale, Fla., southwest of Orlando.
The best homeschool squads from Texas, Virginia, the Carolinas and California will square off against the Patriots.