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A bill named after Heisman Trophy winner and former NFL quarterback Tim Tebow is making its way through the West Virginia legislature. It would allow homeschooled students in West Virginia to participate in public school athletics in the same way Tebow did during his high school years in Florida.
Senate Bill 105 would allow homeschooled students to play sports at schools that are members of the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activity Commission.
This legislation would affect students like 15-year-old Bryson French of Winfield, who is homeschooled by his parents Alan and Jennie French. Bryson has played baseball since he was seven years old.
“I always loved it. I don’t think I was always that good at it,” Bryson said. “I know when I was younger I was always a lot slower. I think the dedication and working hard I gradually got better and better. I plan on taking it as far as I can go, definitely into college.”
Without the bill, Bryson can’t participate in state-sanctioned sports like a teen who attends a public school. That means if Bryson wants to play baseball at his age, he can only play in summer travel leagues.
“Right now, where I play for my travel team, we play 30 to 40 games every season,” Bryson said. “All my teammates are playing an additional 20 to 30 maybe 40 games with their school teams, so I’m missing out on half the season that they get to do. The Tebow Bill would give me the ability to play more games. That would get me up to speed with the rest of them.”
Currently, the bill would allow homeschooled students to play sports for the public school district in which they live, but would not allow them to go outside of the district if the school does not offer their sport.
However, opponents argue the bill is unfair, prioritizing the needs of homeschoolers above those actually enrolled in public schools. Bernie Dolan is the executive director for the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activity Commission, the body that oversees high school athletics.
“Currently as the bill is written right now, homeschooled students, or students at non-member private or parochial schools could participate in athletics at our member schools where they are not enrolled,” Dolan said. “That’s our biggest concern. We feel that our number one rule is, if you’re going to participate for a particular school you should be enrolled in that school.”
Bryson’s dad, Alan French, said his decision to homeschool his four children should not prevent them from participating in athletics, especially in a district where he pays taxes to support the schools.
“It is a bill that is providing equal access to students, having fully understood that we did not enroll our children in the school system,” French said. “It is still a public opportunity that is given to students to be able to play these sports or do these activities. We are full members of this community, but are being denied the possibility of him participating with other children his age in those sports simply because we’ve chosen an alternative route of education for him.”
According to the Home School Legal Defense Association, nearly 30 states either allow homeschoolers to participate in sports or allow the school district to decide. However, in a state like West Virginia where school districts are laying off teachers due to declining revenues and shrinking student populations, SSAC’s Dolan notes that this bill may also cause a funding issue.
“Schools get money from the state based on enrollment,” Dolan said. “We’d be paying for students who you’re not getting reimbursement from the state.”
Alan French said one solution is for schools to be given extra funding for homeschooled students wishing to play sports.
There are other concerns about the bill as well, like how GPA and attendance eligibility requirements for athletics would translate for home schooled students. Though French said these issues could be resolved by following the lead of other states that allow homeschoolers to play sports, Dolan said he does not foresee any amendment to the bill that would satisfy the SSAC members.
The Tebow Bill has already been passed by the Senate but has yet to be taken up by the House Education Committee.