Cover Story

Home, but not alone

Homeschool athletes look for equal access to sports teams their parents are helping to finance

Issue: "Balancing act," Sept. 8, 2001

Jason Taylor stands at 6'6" and weighs 260 lbs. Picked 73rd overall in the 1997 NFL draft, the All-Pro Taylor is making his mark in Miami: He is expected this month to start the Dolphins' season as starting defensive end for the fourth straight year. Jason Taylor was homeschooled. Kevin Johnson is 6'7" and weighs 215 lbs. A key member of the University of Tulsa men's basketball team (2001 NIT Champions), "Kevin is one of the classiest young men I have ever coached," according to his head coach John Phillips. "His work ethic has been a great influence on his teammates." Kevin Johnson was homeschooled. These two young men are the most visible symbols of an emerging national trend: Homeschooled athletes who excel and want equal access to interscholastic sports at the high-school level. Over a million American households are now homeschooling, according to the National Center for Home Education, and many are continuing with teenagers wanting access to high school competitive sports as well as specialized subjects. "As home education continues to grow," noted NCHE's Stephen McGarvey, "no longer are the questions as simple as, 'Is it legal?' or 'What about socialization?' Now the questions are, 'Can home-educated students take part-time classes from public schools?' 'Can home-educated students play for public-school sports teams?' 'Do parents have the right to choose not only to exempt their children from public school, but the right to receive no-extra-cost public education services of their own choosing?'" The drive for access has some opponents among homeschoolers. One is Larry Huber, leader of the Christian Homeschool Association of Pennsylvania (CHAP). He complained recently in the CHAP newsletter that "many homeschoolers are pushing for ... access to public-school services such as sports and band. This grieves me.... Too often we have seen a teenage homeschooler move along into high-school sports or band or part-time classes and character compromise takes over." But many homeschoolers want the sports option their taxes are paying for, and they are pressuring legislators. Arizona, Colorado, Florida, Idaho, Iowa, Maine, North Dakota, Oregon, Utah, Vermont, and Washington have passed clear "equal access" laws. Illinois law allows non-public students to "request" part-time enrollment. Montana, New Hampshire, and Virginia allow schools to receive partial funding for students to whom they provide services. Athletic associations in Wyoming and Massachusetts have passed bylaws that allow 9th-12th grade homeschoolers to play on public-school sports teams. Kevin Johnson, whose father played NFL football, asserts he didn't need access to play high-school basketball: "I hail from Missouri City, Texas, and we had a team called the Homeschool Christian Youth Association Warriors." When he was named Most Valuable Player for the National Homeschool Basketball Tournament, the University of Tulsa offered him a full scholarship. High-school authorities in his Pittsburgh-area district allowed Jason Taylor to play football on his local high-school team, and that was vital: "That's how I got the scholarship to the University of Akron. There are no homeschool football leagues regionally and no homeschool football tournaments nationally." The Home School Legal Defense Association (HSLDA) says that most courts have ruled that eligibility for a high-school sports team is not a right, but a privilege. "In states with no equal-access laws," noted Mr. McGarvey, "it is up to high schools and school districts to set a policy. In most cases, these policies do not favor the homeschoolers looking for access."

-Douglas Perkins is a minister in Delaware

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