The small but tight-knit community of Providence Hall celebrated its LionsFest on Friday evening, an inaugural homecoming for the small Christian prep school.

Students, parents and friends took over half of the Page Youth Center’s gym for a basketball game against the CASA (Christian Academic Support Association) Knights, a home-school team from Camarillo. Middle school kids from Coastline Christian Academy, El Montecito Upper School and Santa Barbara Christian School were also on hand to join in the festivities.

“There have been decades of people trying to bring a (non-Catholic) Christian-based high school. This is the first time it’s ever happened,” said Randy Clark, CEO of Axia, an electronic payment processing company and board president of the Alliance for Christian Education, the nonprofit group that backed the school.

Providence Hall, which opened in September, shares its campus with Notre Dame School on Micheltorena Street, and had an initial enrollment of 29 ninth- and tenth-grade students. It’s a number expected to triple by next year.

Friday night, students were first treated to video messages from Christian rock acts Switchfoot and Chris Tomlin and a few words of advice from guest athletes Roxanne and Sierra Ellison, the No. 1-ranked junior doubles tennis team.

“The key ingredient for us has been keeping our priorities straight,” said Roxanne, who listed God, family, academics, tennis and friends.

The Lions, Providence Hall’s boys basketball team, then ramped up the excitement with a game against the Knights. The Lions played a close game until halftime, with Duran Stanley dominating the court.

The home team ultimately lost the game, though, going from a halftime tie to a final score of 68-48. But while the basketball game was a defeat for Providence Hall, the evening was, in the end, a triumph for the small start-up school: a chance to test the mettle of its growing athletic program and for them, the first of more homecoming games to come.