‘Tebow Bill’ seeks homeschooler access to public school sports programs

An ongoing debate throughout the years has been the refusal in Virginia to allow homeschooled students the opportunity to participate in public school sports but now they may have an unlikely hero on their side.

Most Virginians have probably heard of 23-year-old Tim Tebow, the wildly popular Denver Broncos quarterback who led his team to the 2012 NFL playoffs and is famous for kneeling on one knee in prayer, something that has been deemed “Tebowing” and duplicated throughout the country.

Many came to know this young man during last year’s Super Bowl game when he was part of a Focus on the Family ad advocating pro-choice and noting that his mother had been advised by doctors to abort him when she became seriously ill during pregnancy but she chose not to follow their recommendations.

What they may not know is that Tebow was born of missionary parents, and that he was homeschooled in Florida, a state that allowed homeschool students to participate in public school sports. He went on to lead the University of Florida Gators to two national titles, won the 2007 Heisman Trophy, and was then recruited by the Denver Broncos.

Pretty heady stuff especially considering Virginia’s homeschooling students are continually refused that opportunity, therefore denying them the chance for sports scholarships.

Florida opened its sports programs to homeschoolers in 1996, allowing Tebow to play and work his way up the ranks. Twenty states across the nation allow homeschoolers to participate in sports but the Commonwealth isn’t one of them. Could there a Tim Tebow somewhere in Virginia just waiting for the opportunity to lead a high school and college team to victory and join a professional sports league?

Delegate Rob Bell (R-58, Charlottesville), who has been a champion for Virginia homeschoolers for years, has introduced the “Tebow Bill” (HB 947) that would permit homeschoolers to try out for public school athletic programs.

HB 947 — Nonpublic school students; organizations governing participation in interscholastic programs — reads:

“Prohibits public schools from joining an organization governing interscholastic programs that does not deem eligible for participation a student who (i) is receiving home instruction, (ii) has demonstrated evidence of progress for two years, (iii) is entitled to free tuition in a public school, (iv) has not reached the age of 19 by August 1 of the current school year, (v) is an amateur who receives no compensation, but participates solely for the educational, physical, mental, and social benefits of the activity, (vi) complies with all disciplinary rules applicable to all public high school athletes, and (vii) complies with all other rules governing awards, all-star games, parental consents, and physical examinations applicable to all high school athletes. The bill allows such students to be charged reasonable fees for participation.”

The Virginia-based Homeschool Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) has followed access at schools nationwide. This issue is strongly resisted by the Virginia High School League (VHSL), the Virginia Education Association (VEA), the Virginia Secondary School Principals Association (VSSPA), and others who oppose allowing homeschoolers to put a foot in the athletic door. Reasons given have been everything from the suggestion that homeschoolers could “lay on the sofa all day” before going to practice to the concern that the actions of homeschoolers could not be controlled outside of a school activity.

Homeschooled students have proven over the years that they can keep up with their public school peers academically. Testimony to that is the number of homeschoolers who have been spelling bee winners and finalists, who have regularly outscored public school students on SAT and ACT tests, who have received higher education scholarships, and who have scored in research, work, academia, the military, and beyond.

Many of those home school families have asked to participate in sports programs, something they feel should be allowed since home school parents pay the same school taxes as everyone else but pay extra for their children’s education, receiving no benefit from those school tax dollars. For years, former Delegate Chris Saxman (R-20th House District) championed school choice and tax credits for home schoolers only to see the measures defeated.

Not all homeschoolers want access to public school sports and feel it would inch the government one step closer to controlling that segment of the population. Others participate in private, civic, and homeschool sports programs in their communities.

Perhaps one of the the strongest opponents to allowing access to public school sports is Delegate Robert Tata (R-Virginia Beach), formerly a coach and football player from the 1950s. NBC-29 noted his objections:

Tata fears that opening high school sports to homeschoolers would weaken the system’s accountability and allow aggressive coaches at powerhouse sports schools to “recruit” home-schooled blue-chip players.

On Thursday, January 26, a House Education subcommittee will debate Bell’s legislation. Will 2012 be the year that Virginia homeschoolers break through the sports barrier?

Cross-posted at LynnRMitchell.com