Alexandria's Northstar Christian Academy impacts the community through faith, education and hockey

"The community slogan of ‘easy to get to, hard to leave’ certainly applies to our families. Several of whom have come to visit their sons, fell in love with the community, and ultimately end up relocating their entire families here," said Brian Downer director of development at Northstar Christian Academy.

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Students from Northstar Christian Academy helped load Jingle Bells baskets during deliveries at Indigo Plaza Sunday morning, Dec, 11, 2022.
Contributed photo

ALEXANDRIA — Northstar Christian Academy has three pillars of focus. Spiritual growth, athletic excellence and academic advancement. It's those pillars that attract not just players but also their families to the Alexandria community. And both are making an impact.

A total of 36 of the 49 players/students that make up the school's 18U and 16U hockey teams are from out of state. They come from all corners of the country and some of their families are now calling Alexandria home.

"The community slogan of ‘easy to get to, hard to leave’ certainly applies to our families. Several of whom have come to visit their sons, fell in love with the community, and ultimately end up relocating their entire families here," said Brian Downer director of development at Northstar Christian Academy.

Downer added that the school had 300 applicants prior to the start of the school year last fall. There are only a handful of spots available as most of the students return year after year and space is limited. Downer says this is a testament to the school's success.

What is the draw? Why would parents uproot their family to follow their child across the country? Is it just to play hockey? Or, is it something more?


"In just five years we’ve had two players drafted in the NHL and around a dozen Division I commits, which attests to the quality of player development here. However, we view these athletic achievements as secondary to the far more important work of disciplining these young men into a deeper relationship with Christ," said Downer. "When these kids genuinely place their salvation on what Christ did for them on the cross rather than athletic achievement, they play the game of hockey with freedom and joy in their hearts because they know their value comes from who they are in Christ, not how they perform on the ice — that’s a beautiful thing."

Each day, the students of Northstar begin with Bible devotionals and they take what they learned from Christ into the community through service projects. Programs such as Alexandria's Car Care Program, Toys for Tots, Santa for Seniors and Love INC to name a few. The community service aspect of the school comes from the first pillar mentioned above — spiritual growth. The students are not just learning God's word, they are putting it to use. They are loving thy neighbor.

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In 2019, students from Northstar Christian Academy helped distribute new athletic socks and shoes to 457 students at Woodland Elementary School.
Echo Press file photo

"We work with anyone and everyone," said Director of Education Shannan Randazzo.. "We just want to be here to serve the community because the community has given us so much... Our goal is to raise money for the local community's needs but also partner with the community to form a larger community... We have families from all over the country that pour into these local needs. It's pretty special."

For Northstar Academy senior Caleb Elfering, 18, hockey was a huge part of what drew him to the school but it was mostly faith. To be part of a school with a competitive hockey program and one that puts God and his word above all else.

Elfering is originally from Richland, Washington. A city just over three hours southeast of Seattle in the heart of Washington's farming country. By the time he was in middle school, Elfering was living with a billet family in Seattle to play hockey for another school. Billet families invite junior players into their homes to be a part of their family during the hockey season. Elfering said the team he was playing for is a great organization but it lacked a spiritual aspect. Then he learned about Northstar.

"He's our sacrifice, he's the reason we're here. He helps us live more freely," said Elfering when asked why faith was such an important factor in his decision to play for Northstar. "I'm not playing for anybody else besides him. He helps him play better on the ice and do everything in the world better."

Northstar is part of the Fellowship of Christian Athletes — an international non-profit Christian sports ministry. The headquarters for the ministry's hockey faction is the Northstar campus. Elfering was sold and it didn't take much convincing for his parents, Chip and Sara, to be on board as well but it wasn't easy.

"I may have sat and cried on the kitchen floor," admitted Sara. "I wasn't ready to let him go. But I knew he was ready. And I didn't want to be the person who stood in the way of what he wanted to do... I think his faith grew and he knew that he could trust that God had a good plan for him."


In June 2021, Students and coaches from Northstar Christian Academy folded and taped boxes before packaging them with food for restaurant employees around the Alexandria area.
Echo Press file photo

Sara added that after research into the school and billet families in the Alexandria area and many prayers, she and Chip agreed to let Caleb attend Northstar. She said that beyond the faith aspect, she was also sold on the service projects the school was involved in.

"It gives the boys opportunities to serve other people and think outside themselves," Sara said.

Caleb says the community service projects has helped him realize that other people out there need help and taught him to be a servant by seeing things through the eyes of others.

"Jesus spent his time on earth as the ultimate servant leader. As Northstar students strive to become more Christ-like, the natural overflow of that commitment spills out into the community," said Downer.

After Caleb's first year, Sara and Chip along with their other two children decided to move to Alexandria. They both took up jobs at the Academy. Chip is the academic department head and Sara is a classroom advisor.

Sara said that during Caleb's first years, they made frequent visits and made friends with other families in the community.

"The community was very welcoming. There's a sign on Highway 29 — 'easy to get to, hard to leave' — I think that kind of stayed in our head. It seemed like everything was pulling us here," said Chip. Sara added that it was the Lord drawing them to Alexandria. "Another part of it too is Alexandria is more of a smaller community. We like the smaller community. We can actually get involved in different things... So that we can help and work with the community and become part of the community."

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Originally from the state of Washington, the Elferings now call Alexandria home. From left, Caleb, Chip and Sara Elfering.
Thalen Zimmerman / Alexandria Echo Press

After the whole family moved, Caleb moved back in with them, "which was wild, because we didn't think he'd ever live with us again," said Sara.


Caleb says Northstar has helped him grow stronger in his faith, become more responsible and mature a lot faster.

Thalen Zimmerman of Alexandria joined the Echo Press team as a full-time reporter in Aug. 2021, after graduating from Bemidji State University with a bachelor of science degree in mass communication in May of 2021.
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