Photo courtesy Ted Melton / actionsportspix.smugmug.com
Football Bucs 2013 state title 23
In 2016, home-schooled students could be wearing the jerseys of area schools due to potential changes in AHSAA rules.
The proposed Tim Tebow Act did not make it out of the Alabama state legislature this session, but home-schooled students will likely get a chance to play sports for the public school for which they are they are zoned.
Steve Savarese, the executive director of the Alabama High School Athletic Association, said the association will continue to meet with respective committees to develop policies applicable concerning home-schooled students gaining athletic eligibility at member schools.
“Just like with virtual schools or students in dual-enrollment programs at local colleges, now, in accordance with our rules, we will be adding rules to allow home-school students to play,” Savarese said.
The details of the new rules will be crafted during the coming months and will likely be approved in April 2016, allowing home-schoolers to begin play in the fall of 2016.
The bill, technically called House Bill 236, is named after former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow from the University of Florida, who was home-schooled and played at Nease High School, near Jacksonville, Fla. Had it passed, it would force the AHSAA to allow home-schooled students and others who attend private schools to be allowed to try out for the school’s teams for which those students are zoned.
Rep. Mike Ball introduced the bill into the legislature, but now that the AHSAA is taking it up, he will not be pursuing it.
“My objective was not to pass a bill,” Ball said as the legislature wrapped up its regular session. “My objective is to open the door to allow these children to participate. And if they’re willing to do it and got a definite timetable to do it, then I always prefer to do it without legislation.”
Savarese was reluctant to speak to the details at this stage of the process.
“It’s too early to discuss the home schools as it will affect participation until policy has been established. There is no policy right now. For me to be speculative would be dangerous,” Savarese said.
The AHSAA and many member schools have opposed the Tebow law because they said the AHSAA, not the state legislature, should make the rules. They are concerned about administration of the rule and how it affects classification, since those students would not count toward population counts, and how home-schooled students could be held to the same academic standards and team rules.
“Issues for all of our participants are fundamental issues of fair play,” Savarese said. “For 94 years, our association has maintained the highest level of integrity with all of our sports programs and has consistently upheld all standards. What we’ll want to study as we move along is holding everyone as close as we can to holding everybody to similar standards.”
“I’ve expressed my concerns to the legislature and I summarized all of them in ‘unintended consequences,’” he added. “There are a lot of people who do a great job with home-schooling their children, and as a parent myself I support school choice. But those unintended consequences, when they occur, can create issues and that will be our job as we move forward to minimize those.”
Ball said that he understood from studying the issues and talking to coaches and administrators that the concern was not so much about allowing home-schoolers to participate.
“There was a lot of concern that maybe some coaches might find a way to take advantage of this to ‘game’ the system. The high school athletic association I think can find ways to govern that,” Ball said.
This move toward allowing home-schoolers to play for public schools has been a growing trend. According to the website TimTebowBill.com, a site devoted to promoting equal access for Alabama home-schoolers, 31 schools in the nation currently have some sort of provision that allows it. Most of the rules were forced by state legislative action – 26 in fact. In other cases, the state association went ahead and authorized it. Some states, such as Ohio, require “partial enrollment.”
Besides Alabama, 11 other states have legislation pending or have their athletic association studying it. Among those states are Kentucky, Mississippi, Georgia, Texas and Oklahoma.
Savarese said he’s been expecting this sooner or later, and the AHSAA has been talking to other state athletic associations to prepare. It’s unclear how many students would take advantage of the new rule. Based on other states’ figures and on the number of home-schooled students in Alabama, the number could be anywhere from 400 to 1,000. Savarese believes the number would grow each year.
The AHSAA does not govern other extracurricular activities, such as band, choir, theater, scholar bowl teams or debate.