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Sports | Opponents of 'Tebow bill' send a clear message to homeschoolers

Issue: "Who will vote?," April 21, 2012

Virginia resident Barbara Hancock has a question for her state government: "How could a family that has been active contributors to the community and taxpaying citizens not be allowed to benefit from the local public school in which district they have always resided?" Thousands of Virginians are wondering as much after the defeat of legislation that would have granted homeschool students access to play on public-school athletic teams. The so-called "Tebow bill," named after New York Jets quarterback Tim Tebow, failed to make it out of committee in the state Senate in March despite support from the House and Gov. Bob McDonnell.

Similar legislation is up for review in several states, including Alabama and South Carolina. At present, just 16 states officially sanction the participation of homeschoolers on public-school teams, while nine others leave the matter up to local districts. Why the opposition elsewhere? "Choices have consequences," said Virginia Sen. Dick Saslaw, a Democrat. "Every parent that chooses to home-school a kid knows what the ground rules are."

Saslaw's fellow opponents worry homeschooled youth might steal spots on athletic teams that would otherwise go to public-school students. They say allowing homeschoolers to play would prevent the enforcement of academic eligibility requirements. They claim homeschooled students have ample opportunities for sports participation outside the public schools.

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Yet in those states where homeschoolers are allowed to participate, as Tebow was in Florida, reports of problems are rare, if not nonexistent. And in states where they are not allowed to play, the challenges of finding alternative team sports options are well documented. Hancock's son Matthew has few choices in a rural community where the public school represents the primary outlet for youth baseball. Others, like Alabama homeschooler James Spivey, must travel hours every day to practice with teams especially designated for homeschooled athletes.

Nevertheless, groups that make up the public education lobby remain vocally opposed to the Tebow bill. Proponents believe that has more to do with rancor toward homeschooling than anything else. Teachers unions and other public education groups have a vested interest in preventing an exodus from their schools, which would reduce funding and force teacher layoffs. The lack of team sports provides a handy tool for casting homeschool as an inferior education alternative and retaining students in the public system.

In Virginia, a public-school student testified before the Senate committee that her school's basketball team, which struggles to field enough players, would benefit greatly from homeschoolers joining the roster. A homeschooled athlete who rows with a club team expressed his frustration at being barred from competing in public school organized regattas. Other homeschoolers described the difficulties of playing basketball with club teams during the summer only to be excluded from participation with the start of the school year.

Such hardships did not sway lawmakers. In voting to reject the Tebow bill, their message to many homeschoolers seemed clear: We'd prefer to have you in the system full time-and if you don't like it, stay home.

To die for

Associated Press/Photo by Sue Ogrocki

Some especially enthusiastic boosters of college football programs almost seem willing to die for their teams. The Oklahoma State Cowboys banked on as much but lost. In a bizarre fundraising venture, OSU took out $10 million life insurance policies on 27 of its elderly boosters. But after two years without a single death and almost $33 million paid out in premiums, OSU canceled the policies in 2009 and sought legal remedy to recover its losses. U.S. District Judge Jorge Solis ruled against OSU this spring and tacked on liability for the insurer's costs of litigation. The "Gift of a Lifetime" program, which had received vocal support from OSU alumnus T. Boone Pickens, died forever. -Mark Bergin

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