breaking into the public school to play sports

I was in the New York Times, recently, talking about homeschooling and sports. Which is not a topic I know much about.

I didn’t play sports as a kid. I didn’t want to play them. I didn’t care about them.

My brothers both played baseball, though, and they were very serious about it for a while. So when the Times editor contacted me and asked if I could have a little statement about whether or not homeschoolers should be permitted to participate in public school sports (after all, we do pay taxes), I called my brothers.

“It’s stupid,” said the older one, Jake, now 22. “If you’re good, and you want to go farther, you can’t, because rec ends at fourteen or fifteen.” He added, “It’s a good thing Tim Tebow got to play at his high school even though he was homeschooled, right? But they had to go to court for that. We shouldn’t have to go to court. That’s ridiculous.”

The younger one, Gabe, who went to high school before he went to college, didn’t care as much. “Whatever. It’s not like I was gonna go pro…” He had been the star pitcher on his team at some point– I still remember his scowl of concentration, and how the moms went crazy when he threw the ball.

I dashed off the piece– the New York Times needed it in two hours. They needed a pic and a bio. Shit, I thought. I don’t have ANY good headshots! I’m going to blow this whole thing!

The New York Times told me that “homeschooler” is two words. “Home-schooler.” That’s the way they do it. “But a lot of us combine them…” I said. It was hopeless. The editor did agree, though, to change the bit in my bio that she’d edited to “writing a book about having been schooled at home,” after I explained that it sounded weird to me that way. “Schooled at home?” That sounds like there were a lot of rulers and a chalkboard involved. And possibly plaid and argyle. Sometimes I fear we will never understand one another…

I sent the piece in. And then I told my mom about it. I read it to her.

“Oh, that’s not how it went,” she said. “We didn’t wish we could get into the school. I decided against even trying. Why would we want to use the school?”

“Jake wanted to.”

“Well, it’s a little more complicated…” She explained that some other homeschoolers in the area had tried to get involved at local schools, for sports or theater, or whatever else, and that it had been a lot of work and bureaucracy and red tape and politics and very little cooperation and fun and learning. She wasn’t sure why anyone would want to get involved in the schools. In fact, she was happy to avoid them.

“That’s the great thing about homeschooling,” she said. “We could do everything we wanted on our own. We didn’t need to rely on school. We formed our own groups.”

And we did. So many of them! Shakespeare and chess and science and magic tricks and poetry and book club and nature walks and historical fiction and ethnic foods and astronomy and just about anything we were interested in.

I never wanted to go to school. Not for anything. Not even to be in a club.

I want homeschoolers to have the option to use their local schools, when they need them, though. To me, it feels simple. You pay the school tax, you get to use the school.

And maybe for serious athletes, this is the only viable option.

But talking to my mom made me wonder if the question being asked was phrased wrong. If maybe the ideas behind it were skewed. The assumption is, of course, that homeschoolers will always need schools. That homeschoolers will try to get into schools, even after rejecting them. That homeschoolers want to use schools– that homeschoolers want to have it all.

Well, I think we do want to have it all. Who doesn’t? And who doesn’t want everything for their child?

But for all of the seriously athletic homeschoolers who discover at fourteen that they really do need access to a coordinated football team and the opportunities and resources it may introduce, there are probably a lot more of us, like my mom, and like me, who just aren’t interested. Who would much rather figure it out on our own than try to cut through all the red tape and squeeze ourselves into a system that has been eying us suspiciously from the beginning.

“Jake got more serious about music, anyway, at that point,” said my mom.

I remember him, up in his room, pouring over orchestra scores. He went to see the Philadelphia Orchestra perform every single week, getting a student discount. He played in the Philadelphia Youth Orchestra and traveled around the world with them. He was preparing to audition at all of the best conservatories. He practiced for hours and hours every day. And now he’s auditioning for all of the best graduate programs, after studying at conservatory for four years. His life is made of music.

Not that it had to be. Maybe he would’ve been a great baseball player. Maybe he could’ve gone to the top.

“Who knows,” said Mom. She seemed fine with the way it worked out. All of life is like that, anyway. You can cry about what could have been, or you can look forward.

I still felt sorry for younger Jake, though. He had been so dedicated to baseball. He would’ve liked being on a high school team. Like Bear’s brother, who really enjoyed it. He’s a consultant now,  not a pro baseball player. But maybe baseball was important for him. It’s hard to say what will end up helping you become who you want to be.

So in honor of younger Jake, I’m glad I argued for homeschooled kids and public school sports. And I’m also glad that I got to spend my childhood entirely independent of school. Thank you, Mom, for trusting yourself. For knowing we were fine on our own.

(i found this picture in the same folder as the very “artistic,” very blurry ones i took of feet on the baseball field at one of my brothers’ games)

*  *

P.S. Originally, my piece in the NY Times ended with this: “Maybe there are people who think it was a terrible idea for Tim Tebow to follow his dream to play football. But they’re just being poor sports.” Poor sports! Get it?! I thought that was pretty funny and clever. It got edited out :( But that’s what blogs are great for! Sharing the lines the New York Times thinks are really, really corny :-)

14 comments to breaking into the public school to play sports

  • Val

    Some things are enhanced by a group, it’s true. And it’s also true we pay taxes for the school, and athletic fees too.

    My kids have not played sports at school. We did park and rec teams with the city, but they have participated in school band. The band directors seemed happy to have them. Apparently any musicians are well received in the program.

    It was not a big deal. I read the comments on that NYT piece and dang, people hate homeschool. Some of them were overtly hostile, and I just don’t get it.

    Same with the idea that if you’re a progressive type, a liberal, your kids have to go to school in support of free public education.

    Well. I disagree, and that doesn’t mean I hate teachers–absolutely not. I don’t hate school system, though I do think it’s very flawed. My kids being there isn’t going to change that, and the idea that my family owes something to some nebulous social ideology is absurd.

    The kids have all gone to high school at a public school we like. But at that point it feels more like being consumers of an educational product than anything else. It feels like them working for us. And they do! Over and over, I’m impressed by how receptive teachers are. A kid who seriously wants to learn? They’re right there.

    Anyway, time for bed. I enjoyed your take on the NYT thing. love, Val

  • My son plays baseball at a public school in Florida. It wasn’t that hard to get him on the team. I just needed a few extra forms. If I’m not mistaken it has always been this way ever since Florida had homeschooling laws. As for Tim Tebow he had to go to court to play for a school outside of his zoned school. The Florida High School Athletic Association is strict about playing for your zoned school in order to keep the playing field level and to keep teams from recruiting.
    In some counties in Florida where schools have magnates, smart, wealthy kids that play well can end up on the “good” team just by applying to the magnate school they want to play for. It happens here. So, if public school kids are pimping the system I don’t see what all the fuss is about a few homeschoolers wanting to play sports. And your right, not many of them want to play. As far as I know my son is the only one currently in this county.

    By the way, I love the “foot” pic.

    From Wikipedia: In 1996, legislation was passed in Florida allowing homeschooled students to compete in local high school sporting events. The law specifies that homeschooled students may participate on the team of the local school in the school district in which they live.[16] The Tebows lived in Jacksonville, Florida, and he played linebacker and tight end at the local Trinity Christian Academy for one season. Tebow’s preferred position was quarterback, but Trinity football team’s offense did not rely on passing the football, so he moved into an apartment in nearby St. Johns County, making him eligible to play for the pass-oriented offense at Nease. His performance soon turned heads and led to a minor controversy regarding the fact that he was a home-schooled student having his choice of school to play for.[17]

    • kate

      Interesting! I didn’t know the whole story about Tim Tebow (see? I know nothing about sports!).
      How’s baseball in public school working out for your son? A lot of people who talked about this debate with me suggested that it would be really hard, socially, for kids on what I’m now dying to call “integrated” teams (homeschoolers and public schoolers).

      Thanks for loving the foot pic! Makes me feel better about not having taken any “real” ones :-)

  • Great article! We’re in the position of having children who want to participate in sports and no easy, inexpensive way for them to do so. A teenager in our neighborhood actually re-entered the public school system solely for access to the sports teams.

    I don’t think the problem (or the ideal solution) is a homeschoolers-only problem & solution. I believe, if we’re going to have public schooling at all, that everyone should have a la carte access to the resources their taxes pay for. 38 years old and decide you want a high school diploma? Come on in. Homeschooling and want access to a science class at the public school? Join in. 86 years old and want to learn carpentry through the high school shop class? Sign up. Public schooling but don’t want to take the standard course of classwork and would rather spend half your time in an apprenticeship training program? Sieze the opportunity. It could all be possible if we change the way we think about education from the current factory-dated (broken) model.

    As for the whole thing about putting your kids in public school if you want to have any say in what goes on in public schools… I get this all the time from people who hear me talking about what’s wrong with our public schools. As though the fact that I’ve opted out of the system means I shouldn’t care what’s going on for the children still stuck in the system. Or as though if I *really* cared about all the other children, I’d stick my own children in there with them. How absurd! As though because I care about children dying of starvation in another country, I ought to move my children there too and watch them starve as well. As though the fact that I don’t live there means I shouldn’t have opinions about the way their governments are robbing them of their resources.

    What if we could all come together and realize how much we are all in this together, that we all care about the same things–family, education, childhood, the health of our countries and our world. Then maybe we could have a healthy dialog and together make changes that are better for everyone.

    Thanks for being out there, speaking for homeschoolers. This is important work you’re doing.

    • kate

      Thanks for mentioning the expense. I didn’t have any room in the NY Times thing to talk about it (really tight word count rule), and then I forgot to mention it here. But yes! What about the money? And I love everything else you said here, too. Excellent points. Yes– public school should be for everyone in the community. And wouldn’t that make it better? Wouldn’t it be nice to mix things up a little and maybe toss some older role models and people with different life experience into the mix? It’s ironic– sometimes people use public school as the example of the environment in which kids will encounter the most diversity. I think that when they say this, it’s possible they’re only talking about race.

  • I’m thankful we live in Illinois where homeschool kids can attend classes at the local public school as little or much as they want. I’ve known kids who have gone for theater and choir classes only. I’m not sure how the sports programs work, though.

    We also have a very, very strong homeschooling community in the Chicago area. I subscribe to several e-mail groups, and it’s like Christmas morning every day when I open my e-mail. I constantly get notices about wonderful programs, workshops, trips and opportunities available for my kids.

    I just wish every child who learned outside the school system had these opportunities as well.

  • I participated in high school activities after I rose out in 11th grade. Minnesota High School League is pretty specific that homeschoolers must be allowed to play/participate at their local school, so it was completely a non-issue.

    I did Cross-Country and Math Team (captain!) my last two years and quit the rest because I didn’t need them anymore – Knowledge Bowl, Track & Field, theater (gawd I hated those kids), Drumline… These activities were more of an escape for me, something to keep my mind off of school and homework and how much life sucked. Once I started homeschooling and then unschooling, I found that I didn’t need the public school extra-curriculars anymore, either. I was way happier without them and I could accomplish my own goals without them.

    It wasn’t ever a problem to play nice with the school kids, but I knew them all anyway, pretty much, and many were my friends. I tried not to brag about how great unschooling is when they complained about teachers and classes. 😉 (It’s still hard not to brag when they complain about college, and it is awkward to be totally left out of conversations about school because it’s ALL THEY TALK ABOUT, but it comes with the territory I guess.)

  • Meg

    That bit about whether homeschool is one word or two is important, because of what it connotes. I think you are right to distinguish the two. The subtle, but powerful, insinuation of keeping them separate (against the overwhelming majority of homeschoolers and the rest of the world, who combine them quite naturally) is that home-schooling is the act of attempting to imitate school, but on one’s own. Almost no one who homeschools is even interested in that, at least, not for long once they realize there is no need.

    Even though I defend the subjunctive, which the literate world around me has pronounced dead, even in perfectly respectable published work, I can appreciate why ‘An other’ is now ‘another’ and ‘may be’ is now ‘maybe’. Therefore, a reluctance to recognize ‘homeschooler’ seems an attempt to depict it only in terms relative to schooling, and therefore subordinate.

  • Pamela Wik

    Hey girl,

    Thanks for your blog! We’ve been unschoolers for 20 years too (our son is your age) and it’s great to start hearing from some of you kids what it was like. I have to laugh when you write about your parents — I think we were all reading from the same playbook. Our kids are following their dreams too, which is such a wonderful thing to see. We used to say, oh so humbly, that our unschooled children were our gift to the future. :-)


  • I get the rulers and chalkboard thing but I think you’d look awesome in plaid.

  • Sunflower

    I really wish school was a place where everyone could go at any time, some to learn, some to teach, each doing both as they like and as needed. I’d like to see CEOs, small business owners, college interns, retired people, athletes– pretty much everyone and anyone show up to interact with kids who could pick and choose what they wanted to learn and who to learn from. I think that would be an amazing school to go to by choice, when people wanted to, all on their own. I want it to be a place with a lot of resources and helpful volunteers and an environment to really share ideas that is cooperative and not built on the coercion regular schools operate on. I think that would be so valuable, to trust kids with their own learning and trust that they will learn and that they will go where they want to as needed, and just present the resources to them and let them make their own choices. I don’t know, maybe it sounds really idealistic but I would have loved that growing up and I know I’ll never get the time back I wasted sitting in class being bored out of my mind but not allowed the basic freedom of my own thoughts and pursuit of learning.

  • Kath

    I can see things both ways. But here’s what puzzles me. Homeschoolers are taught at home because they want to avoid:

    regimented learning
    authority figures who do not allow you to question things
    blind obedience

    Yet these things are not just found in a school setting. They are found (indeed, they are a crucial part of) public school sports. Just replace the word “teacher” with “coach”.

    A coach expects you to obey his orders without question. You do endless drills. There is certainly bullying among the players. Why is it OK to learn sports in this way, but learning math in this way is wrong?

    The truth is, you can learn math at home. But you can’t learn football at home. So suddenly, things like drills, authority and blind obedience are OK. It seems a bit hypocritical.

  • Amanda C

    Some of the coolest adults at my older son’s middle school were the coaching staff and the program really emphasized fun and mutual respect over competition. The same has been true for him at the high school level. If my younger son had had teachers at his school who were as respectful, competent, and inspiring as my older son’s coaches, I would probably not be considering homeschooling for him.

  • SargentCasting

    A NY Television Production Company is casting siblings who are parents who have differences and are willing to chat about them. They must currently be living in a 60 mile radius of New York City. For example, one episode we’re trying to focus on a homeschooling parent versus their sibling who enrolls their kids in public or private schools. This is paid and will be a TON of fun.

    Contact for more info!

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