Can the “Tim Tebow Bill” work?

Can the “Tim Tebow Bill” work? Examining home school eligibility across Alabama high school sports

Parker players hold their trophy after beating Ramsay 56-46 in the AHSAA Class 5A state championship game at the BJCC in Birmingham, Ala., Saturday, March 1, 2014. How might AHSAA state celebrations like this one in the future be affected if HB 503 passes the House and Sentate during the current legislative session?

By Jeff Sentell |
March 19, 2014

A piece of legislation labeled HB 503 is barreling its way through the Alabama State Legislature. It is commonly referred to as “The Tim Tebow Bill” across Alabama.

That’s not because of the way its supporters have lowered a shoulder in an attempt to see the measure reach Gov. Robert Bentley’s desk.

Tebow was the Heisman Trophy winner and National Champion at the University of Florida. The quarterback was home schooled and allowed to participate in the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Former Florida Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow speaks at the Gridiron Men’s Conference at the Birmingham-Jefferson Convention Complex Arena in Birmingham, Ala., Friday, June 14, 2013. A proposed bill going through the Alabama State Legislature would allow home school students the right to play for the public high school team in their zone even though they do not attend that high school.(Tamika Moore /

The bill would create an opportunity for a student in that environment to be eligible to compete for the varsity teams in their district that are members of the Alabama High School Athletic Association and the Alabama Independent Schools Association.

That proposal would allow home-schooled students to play on school teams if they are zoned for the school, pay the required fees and meet academic requirements. It applies to only band and sports. A figure cited on quoted there were approximately 25,000 home school students in Alabama.

There are 910 students in Jefferson County in grades K-12 that could be affected by this bill. There are an approximately 600 K-12 students in Shelby County.

Those figures reflect the best estimate of the count of guardians who choose to home school their children must notify their district system or covering church school to apply with state attendance laws. There are 12 total students in the Homewood system, along with 37 high school students out of 137 overall home school students living in the Hoover district.

This effort has been taking place over the last few years. The bill was placed on the House calendar this week and could go to a vote as early as Thursday.

The bill passed through the House’s Education committee this time thanks to “softer” language that didn’t threaten the AHSAA and AISA.

A previous edition said any school that didn’t allow a homeschool child to compete on their athletic teams would not be allowed to be a part of any state association or governing body like the AHSAA and AISA.

Reports show that anywhere from 23 to 30 other state associations across the country have adopted a measure of open play to compete on traditional varsity teams. reader opinion was split in a March 11 poll about whether to allow home school children to compete on public school teams. The issue attracted more than 2,600 votes.

It is actually called the Equal Access to Athletics Act, but that doesn’t strike the same chord. Rep. Mary Sue McClurkin, R-Indian Springs, sponsored the bill. She “definitely thinks” the bill isn’t going away no matter what happens this session.

“There are just so many parents who are doing homeschooling and want their kids to participate in sports,” Rep. McClurkin said. “Because of the way it is structured in Alabama most all community sports end in the seventh or eighth grade. … Those sports are then done in the public high school and not necessarily other organizations.”

Tim Tebow came to Alabama to compete against Hoover High in a football game with Nease (Fla.) in this August 2005 file photo. Tebow later went on to gridiron stardom with two national championships and a Heisman Trophy in the SEC at Florida. The Bucs beat Tebow’s Nease team by a 50-29 margin that day. ( file photo)

She wants to see this legislation create more opportunities for more students in Alabama.

“Hopefully the people will come to see they stand to benefit a lot by having these kids that you don’t have to pay for them to go to public school but they are well-educated and can participate in those sports,” Rep. McClurkin said.

Several statewide school administrators that were contacted while reporting this story disagreed with that stance. They feel every student’s ability to have a public education is a right, but extra-curricular activities like athletics and fine arts are a privilege.

“The public schools do not have to educate those kids but their parents are still taxpayers,” Rep. McClurkin said. “They are still paying taxes. I really don’t understand why this is a problem. There are 30 other states who allow this. I don’t see why it is such a problem to Alabama except that the bureaucrats just want to keep playing their game their way.”

Detractors have doubts

Houston County Superintendent Tim Pitchford spoke to WDHN-TV in Dothan about the bill.

“Studies have shown in other states, that because of that unfair advantage of practice time – home school students have extra time to practice,” Pitchford said. “Students are actually dropping out of school and going the home bound route so they have more time to practice.” State Representative Donnie Chesteen hails from the Dothan area. He’s also the head football coach at AHSAA member school Geneva Christian. He told WDNH that it was only a matter of time before this bill passes. “I think it’s very important that the high school athletic association be at the table rather than having it passed by the legislature and forced upon you,” Chesteen said. “You know – if you see it coming, I think it’s very important that you should be working with the parties to have input into how the bills are written.”

Florence City Schools Superintendent Janet Womack shares a popular “cherry-picking” belief that was common among administrators contacted statewide.

Current Florence City Schools Superintendent Dr. Janet Womack was a finalist for the Trussville City Schools Superintendent’s position in 2004 when she was the Director of Education of Russell County (Ala.) schools. ( file photo)

“The issue we run into that I am opposed to and most of my colleagues are opposed to would be parents being able to pick and choose that your school is good enough for my child when it comes to fine arts and athletics or career tech but your school is not good enough for the other things,” Womack said. “I don’t believe you can have your cake and eat it, too. I think either you choose to be a part of that system or you choose not to be a part of that system. It is one or the other and not a little of both.”

Her rationale runs counter to the argument that home-schooled families pay their taxes and deserve the same equal right to compete. A school system only receives state funding relative to the amount of enrolled students at that school.

A home school athlete would be receiving services at the school they might pay their taxes for, but that system would not receive any compensation for their participation because that student-athlete would not be enrolled at that high school.

The bill is a clear threat to the bylaws and standards the AHSAA has had in place for years.

How will that home school child’s academic progress be monitored? Would it mirror the oversight of the traditional student-athlete?

If every parent of every talented student-athlete did everything the right way, there would be no need for a governing body over high school athletics in any state. History has proven that state associations are necessary to prevent unfair play across varsity sports.

“The issue is accountability,” Savarese said. “We’ve got to hold all of our student-athletes at the same level of accountability to maintain fair play. Whether it be grades, practice time, discipline or whatever issue it is we have to maintain that accountability across all the students that are eligible to compete in the association.”

Picture a big basketball game going into triple-overtime on the road on a Tuesday night. The home school athlete could potentially sleep in while the traditional student-athlete has to wake up early to begin the next school day.

The Florida example

The Florida High School Athletic Association told there are approximately 1,200 home-school students that are eligible to compete. Those student-athletes do count towards each school’s enrollment numbers for classification.

A common misconception is Tebow sparked home school participation in Florida. Home school students were already eligible before his high school glory days.

The sole responsibility of monitoring academic accountability for home school students is on the parent in Florida. They must be aware of all FHSAA policies and participation standards. They must also act as the athletic director for that student to adhere to FHSAA guidelines.

FHSAA Associate Executive Director for Eligibility and Compliance Services M. Denarvise Thornton, Jr. is an Alabama native. He graduated from Gardendale High. He said the home schooling parent turns in that child’s grades in order to attain eligibility under FHSAA rules.

AHSAA Executive Director Steve Savarese honors Hoover’s 2012 Class 6A state football championship at a trophy presenation at Hoover High in Hoover, Alabama in this Jan. 2013 file photo. Savarese worries about academic accountability and fair play in regard to the Tebow bill.(Frank Couch /

The parent must fill out a one-page form with the student’s current grades, sign, and notarize the form. They simply give them a letter grade.

“When you talk about academic accountability as far as the athletic association and academic eligibility goes to participate in sports I’ll just say that we haven’t experienced a home educated student who has ever been academically ineligible,” Thornton, Jr. said.

He was confident the FHSAA has never addressed eligibility standards for a home educated student for academic reasons. That’s a nod to the tremendous academic reputations by and large for homeschooling families.

Is there dangerous potential in that track record? The AHSAA won’t admit that, but there clearly is.

There have been cases in Florida where a student was facing academic ineligibility in the traditional setting and withdrew to be a home school student according to the state’s statues and after that were no longer in danger of academic failure.

That trend would definitely catch the attention of the AHSAA.

Home schooled students in Florida can opt to enroll in their zoned high school or their district’s “choice” program for any other school in their district. A third option would be any private school that wishes to accept that home educated student onto one of their athletic teams.

A public school student has an option in Florida to go to a private school if they pay the full cost of tuition. The home school student may only have to pay an activity fee and not the full cost of attendance at that private school.

That association offers a “buffet” style of eligibility options. Transfers in that state could potentially play at three different high sports for three different schools in the FHSAA during the same academic year.

The next step

The current legislative session is scheduled to conclude on April 7. If it passes both the House and the Senate, it would go to Gov. Bentley’s desk. If he signs it, HB 503 would become effective on June 1 of this year.

“I certainly hope that this will be passed and will be enacted into law because it is a good opportunity for kids to participate in sports who otherwise would not have that opportunity,” McClurkin said. “I feel that this is a very worthwhile cause.”

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