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‘Tebow Laws:’ What are the Effects on Travel Teams?

9 Mar, 2015

By: Mary Helen Sprecher
As Increasing Numbers of Homeschooled Students are Allowed to Play on Public School Teams, What Effect can the Sports Travel Industry Expect?

It’s the sports equivalent of a hot potato. At the very least, it’s as polarizing as the issue of prayer in schools.

The so-called ‘Tebow Law,’ allowing homeschooled students to play on their local public schools’ high school sports teams, has now been passed in 30 states. In many other states, proponents of the ‘Tebow bill’ (as it’s known as it attempts to navigate the complex process of becoming law) are hoping for similar success.

But officials in the youth sports travel industry aren’t as concerned about who’s paying taxes for what, what students are entitled to and what parents’ belief systems are. Yes, those are all valid concerns, but sports travel planners are looking at the issue through a different lens entirely: With homeschooled students now able to move to public school teams, what will the effect be on travel teams’ bottom line? Will their programs lose players – in some cases, star athletes?

Consider the scenario: Many students who were previously ineligible to play on their local high school teams were able to get sports experience during the school year only by enrolling in travel and club teams. Programs such as football, soccer, basketball, baseball – even all-star cheerleading and dance – profited from the presence of homeschooled students. Now, with the availability of programs at local high schools, will those programs suffer? And how much?

It really depends, note industry insiders, on what the student (and his or her parents) had as a goal in enrolling in a sports program in the first place.

If the goal was just to participate in sports and to be active, high school sports could be a satisfactory alternative – as could rec teams, for that matter. In other words, if a student is participating on a travel or club team because of a lack of other options, then yes, there is every possibility their defection to high school sports could have an impact on those travel programs.

As another option, kids could be enrolled in special athletic leagues for homeschoolers. (Interesting fact: Chris Davis, the leader of Homeschool Sports Network, was quoted as saying he doesn’t see the need for homeschooled kids to have access to public high school sports, since so many avenues are already available to them).

But many times, what parents have in mind is admission to higher education for youth athletes. In an article in the Richmond Times-Dispatch, it was noted, “Increasingly, private travel teams for sports such as soccer, baseball and track rival interscholastic competition as a way to snag Division I or Division II scholarships.”

Should student athletes wish to enroll in both high school and club or travel teams, they often have a difficult balancing act to establish, according to an article in the Ventura County Star. And unless schools have a no-cut policy, there is no guarantee any student athlete (homeschooled or in actively taking classes in school) will be chosen for a varsity team at all.

In addition, high school sports often are not viewed as an equivalent platform for youth athletes who wish to gain visibility and to be taken seriously. In a Forbes Magazine  article, youth sports columnist Bob Cook stated, "If you’re serious about a pro career or athletic scholarship, in most cases it’s your elite travel schedule, not how you did for your Podunk High against rival Bugtussle, that determines whether you’re noticed.’”

While notable exceptions to this theory exist (cough! cough! Tebow cough! cough!), one thing is absolutely clear: The issue of homeschooled kids playing on public high school teams opens a Pandora’s box of even more questions lawmakers and interscholastic sports associations are struggling to answer. And as more states either pass Tebow laws or put down rules governing homeschoolers’ participation (some states, for example, are proposing that homeschooled children must take a minimum of one in-person class in the local high school in order to participate in its sports programs), we can expect to see at least some migration between the travel program and the high school sports demographic.

Travel programs do have the potential to survive the developments, based on their longstanding reputation as a stage on which serious talent gets noticed. But the Tebow law, like a new player just coming off the bench for the first time, also has the potential to be a game-changer and will bear watching over the next few years.

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