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Cameron Smith

Home-schooled students closer to inclusion in high school teams

Cameron Smith
Prep Rally

High schools in Tennessee and Indiana are closer to allowing players who don't even attend public high schools to participate in interscholastic sports, after both states have stepped forward with actions that would allow home-schooled students to join high school teams on equal footing with existing players.

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According to the Fort Wayne Journal Gazette, Indiana home-schooled athletes are on the verge of gaining rights equal to their peers who attend schools they would compete for, with the Indiana House of Representatives considering House Bill 1399, which allows all students in non-accredited, non-public schools the right to compete in any and all interscholastic sports.

While there isn't a clear consensus on whether the bill will pass the state's House yet, it received a ringing endorsement from the Indiana House Education Committee, which approved it with a dominant 12-1 vote. That support came despite outspoken opposition from Bobby Cox, who serves as the commissioner of the Indiana High School athletic association.

Meanwhile, home-schooled students in Tennessee are a step closer to the fields without the need for a legislatively mandated shift. The Associated Press reported that the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association approved a bylaw change that would allow any home-schooled students who register with their local education district to play sports for their designated school.

While the bylaw change will have to pass a second vote before it can be instituted as early as fall 2011, there is little direct opposition, in part because it doesn't have the oomph of the measures being taken in Indiana. While the Tennessee bill will allow home-schooled students to compete, it can't compel its individual districts to incorporate those students into its athletic programs, essentially leaving the decision up to the districts themselves. In that way, the TSSAA has set up a sort of preemptive federalism for high school sports, hoping to avoid a full-on legislative change by presenting districts with an option first.

The Indiana High School Athletic Association never got that chance, with the state legislature moving to force its hand to admit home-schooled students. Yet the Indiana developments are also interesting because of what they could do to some smaller, existing home-schooled student networks. As Prep Rally reported last fall, the Home School Union Tommies have emerged as a legitimate pool of cross country talent in Southern Indiana, with the team, pictured above, competing against established schools in regional meets. Allowing the home-schooled students who helped found and build that program to compete for local schools could decimate its ranks, just as the group began to find firmer footing with both talented boys and girls teams.

Terry Daniels, the volunteer athletic director of the Huntington Eagles Sports Club, a multi-sport group similar to the Home School Union Tommies, told the Journal Gazette that a better compromise would be to sanction competition between some schools and the existing home school athletic groups in Indiana.

Adding home-schooled athletes also raises serious eligibility questions. While the TSSAA has not specified how it will determine the eligibility of home-schooled athletes, the Indiana bill sets forward extremely loose regulations, forcing home-schooled students to pass a "nationally recognized test" once a year, with no oversight on any kind of attendance.

In both cases, the states are moving forward into murky territory, attempting to force the hand of school districts which may not approve of using employees funded under their already limited budgets to oversee students who have been consciously kept away from the education provided in their schools.

"[People] make decisions, and decisions have ramifications," Indiana state Superintendent Tony Bennett, a former high school basketball coach, told the Journal Gazette. "If I am choosing an educational path for my child, I understand with that choice I have set up some limitations."

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