Homeschoolers and access to sports

MARY REICHARD, HOST: It’s Thursday, the 23rd of August, 2018.

Thanks for listening to today’s edition of The World and Everything in It. Good morning, I’m Mary Reichard.

NICK EICHER, HOST: And I’m Nick Eicher.

Tim Tebow’s story is probably familiar to you: He was the star quarterback at the University of Florida. He won the Heisman Trophy. He would go on to play pro football and baseball. Tim Tebow’s success story has become a sort of rallying point for homeschoolers’ potential on and off the field.

Tebow was homeschooled by Christian parents in Florida. A 1996 law in that state allowed homeschool students to participate in public-school sports. That’s what gave Tebow a shot to earn a spot on the football team.

REICHARD: Today, 34 states have so-called “Tebow bills.” These are laws that allow homeschoolers access to extracurricular activities, including sports. The other 16 states bar it outright.

Here to discuss the benefits and potential problems with mixing home and public schools is Katie Gaultney. She’s a WORLD correspondent based in Dallas.

Katie, talk about why homeschoolers want to play sports at public schools?

KATIE GAULTNEY, REPORTER: Well, certainly, a lot of homeschool families are in favor of having the opportunity for their students to use the resources of their school district. The idea is that, hey, we pay our property taxes or what have you—we are paying into this system, we’d like the opportunity to—in this case, play sports at the local school. And in the course of my reporting, I heard about several families who had really benefited from that kind of arrangement, kids who had a knack for sports being able to play at a very competitive level, with more exposure to college recruiters and scholarships. Stephen Howsley of the Texas Home School Coalition told me that employers and colleges really look on transcripts and résumés for areas where students had been part of a team, such as with team sports.

REICHARD: Why the public school though? Don’t alternatives for athletic homeschoolers already exist?

GAULTNEY: Sure, absolutely. There are well-organized homeschool leagues with tournaments, there are club teams, and of course individual sports, like golf and tennis, or gymnastics and martial arts. But cost and distance are a real barrier for many families. I learned about families who tried to join a homeschool league, but they were having to drive an hour to and from practice and games several times a week. And where I live, in North Texas, the cost of club sports can easily surpass $10,000 a year for families, who are paying into an organization that has to supply uniforms, coaches’ salaries, tournament fees, equipment, practice facilities and more. So sadly, those alternatives aren’t going to be viable outlets for many families.

REICHARD: It seems like there are plenty of reasons to offer that option—playing at the local school—to families who choose to homeschool. But then again, I can imagine there would be some difficulty with schools keeping track of kids playing on their teams but not attending their school. Is the resistance in those 16 states coming primarily from school administrators?

GAULTNEY: You’re right, principals, superintendents and other administrators often do say homeschoolers playing sports at the public school can create an administrative burden. But, interestingly, I learned that homeschool families and pro-homeschool legislators aren’t always supportive of Tebow bills. There’s this idea that it would give state governments a “foot in the door” to be able to more closely regulate homeschool classrooms. Take my home state of Texas, for example: If a homeschooler is playing sports at the high school down the street, how does he prove he’s eligible to play? Does that student have to take standardized tests, when before he didn’t? Do his mom and dad need to submit grade reports to the school? So it could be a slippery slope, and some homeschool advocates don’t think the benefits outweigh the potential costs.

REICHARD: Valid points. Surely there’s a happy medium? A scenario that could satisfy homeschool families with athletically gifted students AND school administrators?

GAULTNEY: Well, it varies from state to state, but I like what Indiana came up with: Homeschool students who enroll in one public school class, take standardized tests, and meet basic eligibility requirements may participate in public high school sports, at the principal’s discretion. Students get to choose the class that they take, so in theory, they could take a music class, or an advanced science course to supplement their home instruction. Then in return, Indiana schools—which receive funding on a per-pupil basis—gain more dollars to address the added expense of more student athletes.

REICHARD: But, government regulation aside, is there a concern among Tebow bill advocates about having homeschoolers on a public school campus, and what they may be exposed to? I’m just thinking about the substantial number of families who choose to homeschool for religious reasons, and it strikes me as surprising that so many would want to have their kids in a public school environment, even part time.

GAULTNEY: No, you’re exactly right. One of the Indiana state legislators I spoke to, Dennis Kruse, said he initially opposed a Tebow bill introduced in his state because of the potential negative influences, like “locker room talk.” Kruse eventually came around and helped create the system that allows homeschoolers to play public school sports in his state. But I think, too, of what Kristin Childs, a homeschool mom in Minnesota, told me. Her kids were able to homeschool while playing sports at their neighborhood high school, and she told me what an incredible mission field her family found by welcoming their kids’ teammates into their home. So certainly, there are reasons to be cautious, but it may be another way to live out the Matthew 5 calling to be “salt and light” in the world.

REICHARD: Katie Gaultney is a WORLD correspondent based in Texas. Katie, thank you for bringing us this report.

GAULTNEY: Thank you, Mary.

(Illustration/Krieg Barrie)

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