Without a Season: Virginia Homeschool Sports Access

Virginia Cup header

Nick, #8, a left back, was a guest player for the Richmond Kickers U15 elite team, which won the 2012 Virginia Cup tournament in September.

For the first time since Nick was four years old, he doesn’t have a spring soccer season. He is a U15 player for a Richmond Kickers competitive youth travel team, and at his age and level, his teammates will be trying out for their public high school teams. Therefore, club soccer takes a break, with the understanding that players are getting their soccer in their community’s public schools.

In 29 other states, Nick could also try out to play on a school team. But not in Virginia — because the Virginia High School League says kids who legally meet the state’s education requirements through home education are prohibited from participating in these publicly funded athletic programs.

Last year, with this day looming on the horizon, our family was featured in a TIME magazine article which included a two-page photo of Nick– who has since gotten a much shorter haircut and much longer legs. I blogged about the details of that experience here, and between the article and the blog post, you can get the gist of the situation.

Monday, members of the Virginia General Assembly’s House Education Committee reported a bill out that would allow school divisions to make these decisions locally. The bill also has wording to address unfounded concerns about homeschoolers’ potential participation.

For example, kids would only be eligible to try out for a team at the school in their attendance zone (no “school shopping”), and dropouts couldn’t declare homeschool status just to be eligible for a team, since homeschoolers would only be eligible if they meet the state’s academic requirements for them for two full previous years. (I personally think this is too strict, since public school students only have to “take five, pass five” during the single previous semester, but I understand the politics here).

To read how other concerns are addressed and why the bill deserves your support, go to the comprehensive information compiled by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.

The bill will move to the full House, and it will also be considered in the Senate, all within the next days and weeks. Last year, it was defeated by one vote in the Senate Health and Education committee.

This summer, homeschoolers met with the Virginia High School League and other key organizations in an attempt to work out a non-legislative approach to the issue, but VHSL still wants to keep homeschoolers out.

It’s a puzzle to me that anyone considers it a defensible position to narrow support for public school programs by excluding families who are highly involved in their communities and who want to take part.

I mean, my family literally helped build the soccer facility in our southern Virginia town, as founding members of the board of directors of the area’s first soccer club.

Oh yes, the high school plays on one of the fields our family helped build, because it doesn’t have a field of its own.

Nick and Delegate Bell

Nick joined other homeschoolers in meeting with Delegate Rob Bell at the Virginia General Assembly last week. Delegate Bell is a patron of the Homeschool Sports Access legislation and has worked closely with The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers for its passage.

Nick and I went to the General Assembly Thursday to advocate for passage of the bill, which has been supported by The Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.

Not only do the members of VaHomeschoolers support the legislation (which we know, because the membership is surveyed annually), but 2/3 of Virginia residents favor allowing homeschoolers to play for public school teams, according to the Commonwealth Education Poll, which published its results last week.

Homeschoolers and schools in Virginia have worked together for many years, with over half of school divisions making a local decision to allow part-time enrollment in classes, for example. When caring educators and parents work together, they really can serve schools’ entire constituencies, thus building stronger communities and more support for public school and homeschooling–for education!

I urge you to contact your representatives and ask them to vote in favor of the Homeschool Sports Access Bill (also sometimes known as the Tebow bill). Ask them to talk to members of the Senate Health and Education committee about voting in favor of the bill so the full Senate can consider this legislation.

VaHomeschoolers explains what steps you can take in support of this legislation, including providing links to find your legislator.

If this bill passes, and if your local school board decides it’s a good fit for your school division, your homeschooled neighbors (whose parents pay taxes) could then be offered the same opportunity as, say, an international exchange student, who already gets to try out and play for a publicly funded school team in Virginia.

(And I feel comfortable saying this, actually having hosted an international student from South America for a year, who indeed did play soccer for a school team. See? We really are civic-minded! We even attended all his games! At the school!)

And by the way, no, there really is not a homeschool sports league or community league in our area that provides an alternative for competitive spring soccer at his level during the high school years.

(I’m fascinated by the incorrect presumption that there are all these soccer opportunities out there, without considering the rural nature of much of Virginia, where the schools provide all the competitive opportunities for teens in many small towns. If you want to talk more about this, just let me know!)

Homeschoolers, there will be a call for us to show our support for this legislation within the coming days. It will probably be early in the morning, but maybe it won’t be 10 degrees and snowing like it was when Nick and I drove to Richmond last week. Take your kids and show them the law-making process.

(But ask someone about parking and one way streets around the General Assembly building, first).

Stand up with homeschoolers — and 2/3 of Virginians — who favor allowing legally educated kids to try out for publicly funded sports teams, just as they do in the majority of other states in the country without issue.

As for Nick, he will keep training on his own and, we hope, in some creative and effective ways various coaches are suggesting. He is focused and has good support.

Some homeschooled kids wouldn’t have the ability to follow through with these ways to keep training even without a season, though. It sure would make more sense for homeschoolers to have the option to try out for their community’s team with their friends and teammates at the school just a few miles away.

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8 Responses to Without a Season: Virginia Homeschool Sports Access

  1. Anne says:

    The title of this post is :(. I hope you are successful in your quest. We are lucky to have the option of partial enrollment in our public high schools in our state.. It allows the kids to participate in sports. But, it is individual school system designed. Our particular school system requires 3-4 classes for participation in sports. Others require one. Ours was one class 2 years ago :( I would like to HOME school so we choose not to take advantage. Suggestion. If this looks like it will go through, develop a relationship with the powers that be in your school system now and help them develop their standards for sports participation by homeschoolers. And also help make them flexible, yet standard, because here, each year is at the whim of those powers that be. Good luck and since we aren’t there to help, we will send up some prayers that homeschool athletes in VA get some additional options soon.

  2. Done, Jeanne. Hope it passes this time!

  3. Claudia Guerrero says:

    Wow! Great article Jeanne, and I totally agree with them to pass this bill. And you certainly have apoint, because very true about the soccer field in South Hill, and High school teams were allowed to play there,,,but then again home schoolers can’t be a part of public school sports? By the way, thanks to both you and Nick for always coming to see my son Adrian play for Middle school. I hope and pray this bill goes through. The best of luck to you and the rest of the home school families.

  4. Sonya says:

    It’s not just sports that this bill affects. Sports are of course a huge portion of what VHSL controls, but they also control theatre competitions, debate and a number of non athletic activities that may be of interest (and not offered in the community) to high school aged homeschoolers. Their vehemence on the issue seems almost personal. Why deny the opportunity to try out?

    • Sonya, we know that 2/3 of Virginians favor homeschoolers being allowed to try out for school teams. However, I think a few folks who perceive it as a “loss” of resources among those who already “control” those resources, have a hard time with the idea. Something tied into this is that a few people apparently feel very upset when they frame homeschoolers as finding schools “not good enough” — I think it must feel like a personal judgment or something. However, in our family, we work, play, and volunteer with school families all the time for the good of ALL our community, and we just don’t experience resentment. We’re all just trying to do what is best for our kids and the community.

  5. Catherine says:

    Jeanne, this is a great post. I hope this bill passes!
    Today I phoned and talked to the legislative aide to my Delegate, Jim Scott (Fairfax County, Falls Church area). She didn’t know if he supports the bill or not, but I did my best to make the point that homeschoolers are part of the community. I told her that while my kids were homeschooling K-8, I volunteered at the local elementary school – I did playground duty. My parents volunteered in the school’s reading program. Later, when my kids went to high school (in large part so they could play sports) I was PTSA President for a year. When the Principal died suddenly, I spent an enormous amount of time organizing the dedication of a memorial to him and a community gathering. I met Del. Scott at that event, and at others in our community. The aide said she would talk with him about the bill and let him know about my call – I told her I’d be watching to see how he votes.
    I shared your blog on my Facebook page, hope some other VA friends will contact their Delegate.

  6. Kristi says:

    Well said Jeanne! Aren’t we all, parents, educators, administrators, in this to educate and engage our students to their best potential – in sports as well as academics? We’ll be at the GA when called!
    Kristi

  7. Kanoa says:

    Loved your post and the information in the Richmond Times-Dispatch article. If you think it’s hard to find soccer opportunities, try baseball. My son hasn’t been able to play for 2 years.

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