After three days, nine rounds, and 197 varsity matches, it had all come down to this. The THESA Riders of Dallas/Fort Worth and HCYA Lady Eagles of Houston had each won two games in the finals of the National Homeschool Volleyball Tournament, setting up a fifth and decisive game. On November 4, at a new, state-of-the-art volleyball facility in Omaha, Nebraska, it would be the THESA Riders who would prevail, with a victory all the sweeter after finishing as last year’s runner up. (“THESA” stands for Texas Homeschool Educators Sports Association.)
The event drew 37 homeschool volleyball teams from ten states. The concept is that national competition elevates the personal performances of the young athletes, pushing them to achieve at higher levels than what they’re likely to encounter in their local or regional leagues.
But please don’t confuse this tournament with the National Christian Homeschool Volleyball Championships. That was a different national competition held in October in Springfield, Missouri — the same month as the National Homeschool Soccer Championship in Evansville, Indiana. The National Homeschool Football Association Championship, however — it’s just getting started — November 15-18 in Panama City Beach, Florida. And if your homeschool kid plays basketball, those tournaments won’t be until the spring, such as the East Coast Homeschool Championships in Virginia, or March Gladness in California.
The homeschool movement, once criticized for depriving children of opportunities for socialization, has seen steady growth in both regional sports leagues and national tournaments. Participation from some states, however, is much higher than from others.
Chris Davis who runs a website called Home School Sports Net, explains that team enrollment to some degree is affected by state law. “If you look at the team locator page that I have on my website for every state,” he says, “and you look at places like Pennsylvania or Maryland, and then compare that to Texas and Virginia, you’ll wonder ‘where are the teams in Pennsylvania and Maryland?'” He says it’s because Pennsylvania, Maryland and 20-other states have so-called “Tim Tebow laws,” informally named after the Heisman-winning quarterback. The laws require public schools to let homeschooled kids participate in sports programs. (Virginia would have had its own Tebow law, if not for a veto by Governor Terry McAuliffe earlier this year.) Davis’ point is that the option is often exercised. In the states with Tebow laws, in other words, many homeschool families make the decision to play with the local public schools’ teams instead of homeschool leagues.
Advocates of the laws say Mr. Tebow himself, a former homeschooled kid, would have never quarterbacked the University of Florida Gators in the first place had not state lawmakers passed its sports team accessibility law for homeschoolers in 1996. Since homeschool parents are paying the same school taxes as everyone else, they argue, why shouldn’t their kids have the option of joining public school teams? Opponents, however, say that public school students earn the right to play sports by meeting academic criteria — which generally means they have passing grades in public school classes — and so allowing homeschooled kids to compete without holding them to the same standard would be unfair.
The Homeschool Legal Defense Association publishes a list of states with laws guaranteeing homeschooler access to public school activities.
To be sure, many homeschooling parents aren’t particularly enthusiastic about the Tebow laws. Some fear that sports participation opportunities might open the door to future meddlesome public school regulations, like mandatory standardized testing. Others prefer the faith-based values on which many of the homeschool leagues are based and would have no interest in public school teams because of the spectre of potential, so-called negative socialization.
THESA Rider volleyball coach Celeste Davis, (no relation to Chris Davis of the Homeschool SportsNet website), sees both sides of the Tebow law debate. She says that while homeschool kids should have the right to join public school teams, in the case of her daughter’s volleyball efforts, they’re happier with the homeschool team, its competition and the community it fosters. “The national tournament offers the camaraderie of a large group of families. All of us being in one place together creates a special experience. And even though you’re playing against each other — there’s a lot of love.”