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Homeschoolers gain yardage on school sports

SoVaNow.com / February 02, 2012
Homeschoolers who want their children to be able to play public-school sports are cheering a historic vote this week in Richmond that advances a bill to a floor vote in the House.

While some other states allow homeschoolers to play high-school school sports, Virginia does not. A vote in a House committee on Wednesday will bring the matter to a full House vote after five years of effort.

However, the Senate is expected to be a tougher passage, even with the support of Gov. Bob McDonnell.

South Boston homeschooling parent Kelly Arnold feels so strongly about organized sports that she has her 15-year-old son on a private school basketball team even though he isn’t enrolled there. While she might not switch him to public school sports even if the opportunity presented itself, she’d like the option.

For her, sports teach discipline, skills and life lessons. Moreover, she notes, athletics cut down on obesity.

Arnold grew up playing basketball in public high school. But she also grew up with neighborhood pick-up games every afternoon and all weekend — a casual luxury that she believes most youngsters today don’t have.

Putting together a team full of homeschoolers isn’t as easy as it sounds, she says: “The problem is finding a large concentration of same-age kids.”

Arnold homeschools her son and daughter for both religious reasons and so they can “pursue their passions,” she says.

She also concedes she can see both sides of the complex sports-access issue.

Indeed, homeschool sports access is opposed by Virginia High School League, the Virginia PTA, the Virginia Association of School Superintendents, the Virginia School Boards Association and the Virginia Education Association.

The Virginia High School League, a private group that governs athletics, has argued against the practice, citing, among other reasons, basic eligibility requirements mandating that students attend full-time and pass a certain number of classes.

The Virginia PTA’s website ticks off multiple reasons:

that “participation in interscholastic activities is a privilege that should be reserved for public school students,” that sometimes a student’s “spot on the soccer squad is what is going to get them into college” and that advantages may go to homeschool students, “who may have hours and hours during which they can practice, rehearse and drill.”

Also, public schools do not get state monies for homeschool students.

Halifax County Public School administrators could not immediately be reached for comment Wednesday.

According to Amy Wilson of the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, Halifax had 129 homeschooled students in 2010-11, 32 of whom were high-school age.

Wilson says eight states offer practically unrestricted high-school sports access to homeschoolers while about 32 offer some access or allow participation at the discretion of the district or school principal.

The bill recently has been nicknamed the “Tebow Bill,” after Denver Broncos quarterback Tim Tebow who was homeschooled yet played high school sports in Florida. He went on to become a University of Florida Gators standout, winner of the Heisman Trophy and an NFL quarterback.

About 1.5 million students are homeschooled in the United States.

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