LINCOLNTON – Combine Academy opened its doors in Lincoln County two years ago, but the boarding school and sports performance center has kept a low profile as renovations continue on its campus, which once housed Hull’s Grove Baptist Church.
President and CEO Jonah Baize, a former Clemson basketball player and coach, founded Combine in 2012 with his former Clemson basketball teammate, Trevor Booker, who was playing in the NBA for the Washington Wizards at the time.
Initially, the pair worked exclusively with professional athletes.
“We started to make connections with all the top NBA players in the area and all the local EuroLeague players who play at the highest level overseas,” Baize said. “We were really just working out of the trunk of our cars, taking a suitcase filled with skill-development equipment and meeting those players at different destinations like Carmel Christian School in Matthews and UNC Charlotte. We just kind of used all those different facilities near where the pros lived, and we built a really good reputation.”
Combine eventually partnered with Crews Recreation Center in Matthews, which served as the company’s home base. But while Combine had built a healthy base of clients, the work was seasonal.
“We were only really working during the offseason because, obviously, these top-notch players are traveling all the time during the season,” Baize said. “We were searching for a way to make the business profitable year-round, and that’s when we decided to start an institution for post-graduate players who take a ‘gap’ year after graduating from high school.”
During that year, Combine helps players prepare academically and athletically for college.
Combine recruited six American-born players and seven international players in its first year, renting out a house for student lodging. The team practiced at the Crews Recreation Center and played a schedule filled with national powerhouse programs like Oak Hill Academy in Virginia, but life wasn’t all about basketball.
“Each student’s academic schedule is catered to their individual needs,” Combine general manager Mat Williamson said. “A student might come in with a high score on the SAT and a 3.8 GPA, so they don’t really need the support academically, but they’re here for the exposure athletically. On the other hand, we have students who come in with lower SAT scores and GPAs, and we’re able to offer them high school replacement classes, as well as SAT and ACT prep courses.”
Combine tripled its enrollment in its second year and has continued to grow, eventually establishing an accredited high school program.
“Trevor and myself have always been huge thinkers, so we were searching for a way to expand Combine once again,” Baize said. “The only way we could continue to grow was to add another class of students, but you can only go so far with just postgraduate students, so we decided to branch into high school.”
That step was a huge undertaking, he added, but Combine’s leaders did their homework and started a high school program with 12 students in 2015.
“It’s a different concept at a boarding school like Combine compared to your traditional public high school,” Williamson explained. “The best way I can describe it is, if you’re familiar with performing arts schools where dancers and musicians focus on their craft while still receiving the education they need, Combine is the same concept except for athletes.”
Combine meets North Carolina graduation requirements, and also focuses on NCAA eligibility requirements as well.
It was the addition of high school students that prompted Combine’s move to Lincolnton in the summer of 2017.
“We actually bought 22 acres in Mint Hill at first, but as we went through the design process we realized we were going to outgrow that space after our first year there,” Baize said. “Mat called me in the middle of the night to tell me he found a gym in Lincolnton, and I said, ‘Where’s Lincolnton?’ Hull’s Grove Baptist Church had the property on the market for awhile, and they really loved our plans for the facilities, so we came to an agreement.”
Combine now sits on 43 acres on Car Farm Road, with a campus that includes more than 150,000 square feet of academic, athletic and administrative space, including 25 classrooms, 12 additional rooms for personalized tutoring, a cafeteria, multiple lounge areas for the student-athletes, a gymnasium and a strength and conditioning center where the athletes train, as well as on-campus housing.
Since moving to Lincolnton, Combine has added baseball and soccer programs after initially specializing in basketball. Baize expects the school to add golf and tennis in the fall of 2020.
Combine had an enrollment of 120 students for the 2018-19 school year, and with additional on-campus housing being built, the school will soon be able to support more students.
For more information about the school, visit.combineacademy.com or call 704-909-0540.