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Playing and Praying: In Basketball, Family Combines Fun, Faith

  • From left, sisters Rachel, Phoebe and Anna Seale work on their dribbling during practice at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 20, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    From left, sisters Rachel, Phoebe and Anna Seale work on their dribbling during practice at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 20, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • After practice, the Seale family, along with a few friends, pray before dinner at their home in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2014.  While there are five Seale siblings, their table is often overflowing with friends who will stop by for dinner. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    After practice, the Seale family, along with a few friends, pray before dinner at their home in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2014. While there are five Seale siblings, their table is often overflowing with friends who will stop by for dinner.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Chelsea's Eliza Amber (22) and Fiona Milchman (21) block Mid Vermont Christian School's Phoebe Seale as she catches a pass during the game in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2014. Phoebe, a senior, is close to earning her 1,000 points. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Chelsea's Eliza Amber (22) and Fiona Milchman (21) block Mid Vermont Christian School's Phoebe Seale as she catches a pass during the game in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2014. Phoebe, a senior, is close to earning her 1,000 points.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • With a razor thin margin between the teams, coach Perry Seale gives his daughter Rachel Seale a few instructions during a tense point in the fourth quarter of the game against Chelsea at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2012. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    With a razor thin margin between the teams, coach Perry Seale gives his daughter Rachel Seale a few instructions during a tense point in the fourth quarter of the game against Chelsea at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2012. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Anna Seale jokes with her sisters and teammates after an exciting close win against Chelsea at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Anna Seale jokes with her sisters and teammates after an exciting close win against Chelsea at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2014.
    (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • Coach Perry Seale jokes with his daughters Phoebe, left, and Rachel during a practice at the Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 21, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

    Coach Perry Seale jokes with his daughters Phoebe, left, and Rachel during a practice at the Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 21, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap) Purchase photo reprints »

  • From left, sisters Rachel, Phoebe and Anna Seale work on their dribbling during practice at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 20, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • After practice, the Seale family, along with a few friends, pray before dinner at their home in West Lebanon, N.H., on Jan. 21, 2014.  While there are five Seale siblings, their table is often overflowing with friends who will stop by for dinner. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Chelsea's Eliza Amber (22) and Fiona Milchman (21) block Mid Vermont Christian School's Phoebe Seale as she catches a pass during the game in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2014. Phoebe, a senior, is close to earning her 1,000 points. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • With a razor thin margin between the teams, coach Perry Seale gives his daughter Rachel Seale a few instructions during a tense point in the fourth quarter of the game against Chelsea at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2012. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Anna Seale jokes with her sisters and teammates after an exciting close win against Chelsea at Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 24, 2014. <br/>(Valley News - Sarah Priestap)
  • Coach Perry Seale jokes with his daughters Phoebe, left, and Rachel during a practice at the Mid Vermont Christian School in Quechee, Vt., on Jan. 21, 2014. (Valley News - Sarah Priestap)

West Lebanon — The coach of Mid Vermont Christian School’s girls basketball team jokingly calls this year his “dynasty year.”

“For me, it’s a dream come true,” said Perry Seale, whose players include three of his daughters. “It’s just a wonderful time to spend with my girls.”

Sisters Rachel, Anna and Phoebe Seale grew up playing ball together, and joining forces on the varsity team was something they had long looked forward to. The team, 10-4 after a game Thursday night, is having its best season in five years.

“The girls are smart, they work hard, they are disciplined,” Seale said, of the six-member team. But, he said, basketball is about more than winning or losing.

Games at the school open with a prayer, and last Monday, before his Eagles and the Concord Wildcats took to the court, Seale gave thanks for the students’ hard work, the people who support them and the “opportunity of competition.” He asked God to keep the girls safe and “help them give all they can give.”

“That’s the core of who we are, is our faith in God,” said Seale, who is also chairman of the school’s board of directors. “Basketball is one component of living that out.”

For him, sports are about using God’s gifts faithfully.

“God has called us to do the best we possibly can with what He has given us,” Seale said. That means encouraging others, good sportsmanship and following through.

“We’re not quitters. With that comes diligence, hard work, commitment, follow-up,” he said. “It doesn’t mean you don’t have frustrations, but if you knock someone down, you’re the first one to help them up.”

A former Division I lacrosse player, Seale had his eye out early on for a sport his family could play together.

Athletics taught him a lot of life skills, he said. “I wanted to pass that on.”

Seale considered hockey and soccer, but once his son’s feet hit size 15, “we realized those were probably not going to be our sports,” he said. His son and three of his four daughters are over six feet tall, and basketball emerged as a natural choice. It’s become a real focus for the family.

Seale and his children play pickup games in their driveway and at the Christian family camp they attend in the summer. On game nights, the family eats dinner together between the girls’ and boys’ games. They travel to away games together, work out together and strategize together, often about how to best manage the constraints of playing with a tiny team.

“We are always struggling to find people,” said Phoebe Seale, a senior and the team’s captain.

But they are making the best of it, she said. “We all get along really well together. There’s no drama.”

With so few players, the girls need to be especially disciplined to avoid injuries and fouls. And to play hard for most of each game, they need to be in top shape. ”I don’t have a lot extra to wear people down,” Perry Seale said.

The sport is full of other lessons, as well.

“If she’s willing to take ownership of her options, even if I think my option might be a little bit better,” he defers to Phoebe for strategies, Seale said. Taking responsibility for your decisions “really reflects a lot of what life is about.”

And the students aren’t the only ones learning.

As a competitive person, “it’s just so easy to overdo it,” Perry Seale said. Luckily, his wife, Jill, is “a good barometer” for him.

Recently, he found himself shouting out plays over and over, worried the girls wouldn’t hear him. Jill suggested he “pull off the throttle.”

“I had to apologize to the girls,” Perry Seale said. “I was a little bit too intense.”

They hatched a plan to give the players more responsibility; he would ease off, and they would repeat his directions to their teammates.

“It’s a part of calibrating where that pendulum swings,” Seale said. And, he added, admitting to an error is part of the biblical principle of walking humbly.

“I want them to learn that it’s OK to make a mistake, but to own up to it” and not blame others, he said. “The only person you can really control is yourself.”

To keep things fun, Seale relies on humor. After the first half of Monday’s game, he drew plays on a plastic clipboard and reminded the girls to keep the ball moving on offense.

“You can’t stand there for half a day selling hot dogs,” he said, smiling, to Rachel, who grinned back.

By the end of the first half, the stands were nearly full of spectators. Among them was Jill Seale, who said basketball has been a “healthy, really good thing” for her family to do together.

Her contributions take place behind the scenes. “I’m not an athlete. I never was,” she said, laughing. “I go to Curves with the old ladies.”

But, she is the team’s biggest fan, Perry Seale said. She washes uniforms, organizes equipment and schedules rides to away games. She also makes meals for the hungry players.

“That’s probably the most important part of the puzzle,” Phoebe said, laughing.

And she loves watching her children play.

“On the court, you see all the emotions, the good, the bad and the ugly, and you love them anyway,” Jill Seale said. “You know that’s how they are wired.”

By the final buzzer, Mid Vermont Christian had won, 45-28, and the team was one game closer to the end of the season, always a sad time for Jill Seale.

“Their last games produce many tears for me,” she said. “It’s sweet while it’s here. There’s something very sweet about healthy girls and their youth and their innocence.”

The sisters say knowing each others’ styles and strengths on the court has been a plus. And, they enjoy playing together — being teammates is “a privilege,” “a blessing,” they said.

“Who has three sisters playing on one team?” Anna said. “We’ve learned the game together, grown up playing together.”

As with any team, or family, they have their struggles. They may be hard on one another because they know what they are capable of, Anna said. But then they remind themselves, “We’re sisters. We don’t talk to each other this way.”

And as Christians, the way they play ball, the way they get along, reflects their faith, she said. “We are a witness.”

They aren’t perfect, but they strive to be who God wants them to be, Rachel said. “We weren’t put in this family for no reason.”

Anna agreed. “Playing together, who knows who se lives we’re touching?”

Aimee Caruso can be reached at acaruso@vnews.com or 603-727-3210.