Photos courtesy of Jarrett Guthrie of 813preps.com. The Panthers are off to a quick 3-1 start.

The Bell Shoals Baptist Academy JV boys basketball team is off to a quick 3-1 start in the Tampa Bay Christian Athletic League (TBCAL) this season. The Panthers are led by first-year Head Coach Kris Suarez.

Suarez is also the varsity girls soccer head coach, and he was a substitute teacher at the school. He has four children, two that attend the school. His daughter, Sophia, plays on the JV basketball team and on the varsity soccer team as well. His wife, Diana, teaches Chinese students online how to speak English. Suarez has grown up playing sports, and he and Diana both have dreams of one day starting their own school similar to Bell Shoals, but abroad.

The fourth, fifth and sixth grade players on the JV team include: Reid Freda, Carson Corey, Micah Goldstein, Shepherd Sweers, Drew VanDeman, J Hogan Reeves, Gavin Cox, Isaiah Castiano, Chandler Watkins, Christian Ringuette, Ian Peters, Ben Koutz, Ashton Mahzamani and Cameron Shenefield.

“My goal is to help the kids develop and learn the game,” said Suarez. “I want to make sure that they enjoy playing basketball, that we have fun and we come back next year, and that they want to play again. That’s my number one goal with coaching kids at this age level, teaching them sportsmanship and teaching them how to be respectful.”

Suarez recalls a game earlier in the season where his team had a big lead and was winning 23-2. His starters wanted to go back into the game, but he didn’t want to embarrass the other team, so he used the opportunity to let his younger players get some playing time.

“I want to get them used to not only competing, but also to remember that we are here to glorify the Lord and we want to have honor and respect for whoever we are playing against; that way, hopefully, we get that same respect shown to us, too,” said Suarez.

The Panthers have had a tremendous start to their season, beating Central Baptist 18-13, and they hope to contend for the playoffs that begin Thursday through Friday, May 2-3, with the Championship being played on Thursday, May 9. Eight teams will be eligible and the host sites are to be decided. The format will be single-elimination in the TBCAL Tournament.