Homeschool Students Belong in School Sports

July 27, 2009 8:56PM

By Rebecca Wright (from The Jackson Sun) What do University of Florida football standout Tim Tebow, this year’s NFL Man of the Year Jason Taylor and tennis champions Venus and Serena Williams have in common? They are all homeschooled students who were able to participate in their local public schools’ athletic programs. Unfortunately, homeschooled students in Tennessee don’t have the opportunity to participate in public school-related athletics. State lawmakers recently punted on the issue, deferring a bill to provide homeschooled athletes equal access to public school athletics until next year. Homeschooled students are allowed to participate in public school athletics in 24 states (it appears Tennessee is behind the curve). The outspoken support of former homeschoolers-turned star athletes has generated public support for equal access legislation in four more states: Alabama, Louisiana, North Carolina and South Carolina. Having been homeschooled myself for nine years in the state of Florida, which allows equal access to public school amenities for homeschooled students, I had the ability to participate in numerous public school extracurricular activities. This was very beneficial for me and many of my homeschooled peers. Participating in public school activities also gave me the rare opportunity to intermingle with and learn from my public school peers, one of whom I married. Currently the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, Tennessee Education Association, Tennessee School Boards Association and the majority of the state’s public schools are all against equal access for homeschooled students, but why? Participation in extracurricular activities isn’t a right, they claim, and just because homeschooled families pay taxes doesn’t give them a right to be involved in publicly funded athletic programs. Homeschool families pay taxes to support public education and to have their students schooled at home. If parents choose not to utilize all of the amenities that a public school has to offer, that is their right, but it is unfair to require that they either use all of them or none at all. That would be like forbidding everyone who drives their own vehicle from using public buses ever again unless they agree to use public transportation exclusively. That’s simply ridiculous. I have found no evidence which shows that equal access has harmed the schools and school districts in the states that allow it. But there is an abundance of stories of homeschooled students in the state of Tennessee and elsewhere who claim that the state laws which forbid them from participating in public school athletics have been exceedingly detrimental to them. Homeschooled athletes are getting gypped. A homeschooled athlete doesn’t always have access to other athletic programs. And even if they do, what if they want to make a sport their career or their ticket to college? Are they really going to get the best exposure to scouts and the best chance to hone their skills by playing in small and/or noncompetitive leagues? A parent or student shouldn’t have to choose between an opportunity to get a college scholarship and their right to be home educated. With the number of homeschooling families on the rise, we as a state should not send the message that we (dare I use the word) discriminate against families whose only “fault” is that they exercised their right to choose their child’s education. ### Rebecca Wright is a graduate student in public policy at Vanderbilt University and a policy intern with the Tennessee Center for Policy Research, an independent, nonprofit and nonpartisan research organization. Send e-mail to her at