Local homeschoolers ready to dive into sports

Rick Wagner • Jun 12, 2013 at 1:28 PM

BLOUNTVILLE — Homeschooled student Carly Williams is ready to join the Sullivan Central High School swim team this fall.

She was ready last year, but she wasn’t allowed.

This year, thanks to a change in Tennessee law effective July 1, the head of the county school system and her parents said her dream is about to come true.

Homeschooled students must file an intent to try out for sports by Aug. 1, with no guarantee of making the team or program. Sullivan County forms will be available at www.sullivank12.net and were passed out at the meeting.

“I’ve been swimming every year since I was 7,” Carly said after a “homeschoolers town hall” in the old Sullivan County Courthouse. Fresh from a swim, the rising junior from Blountville shivered in the air-conditioned meeting room.

“She’s in the water,” said her father, Eugene Williams.

“They don’t really have a tryout of the swim team,” said her mother, Trish Williams, who has taught her daughter since fourth grade.

Tennessee lawmakers this spring changed the law to require public schools to allow homeschoolers to try out for athletic teams.

Carly and her parents were among a group of homeschool parents and students who attended the meeting, which was co-hosted by Rep. Timothy Hill, R-Blountville, and the Sullivan County school system. Also among a crowd of about 25 were Sullivan County Board of Education Vice Chairman Jack Bales and members Todd Broughton and Randall Jones and County Commissioner Ed Marsh.

Homeschool parent Leslie Barrett of the Colonial Heights area said her four students are interested in playing sports in the Sullivan South High zone.

“It does not guarantee you a slot,” said Rep. Roger Kane, R-Knoxville, the primary House sponsor of the bill. Sullivan County Director of Schools Jubal Yennie also spoke.

“The real issue is what is best for students,” Yennie said. “We’re going to do everything we can to help this law work.”

Yennie, who said he and school officials tried to get Carly into the Central program for 2012-13, said he believes the system would open participation to any school for any student, although the intent of the legislation is to narrow participation to the middle or high school for which the student otherwise would be zoned, Kane said.

Another issue is cheerleading tryouts and whether cheerleading is a sport, which Broughton said someone has asked him.

The TSSAA does not officially sanction cheerleading but holds a cheerleading state championship competition.

One caveat, Carly said, is that even with the law change, the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association requires students to take five “independent homeschool” courses that count toward graduation and that none can be on a public or private school campus or online.

That means her plans to take one class under an “umbrella school,” the Kingsport Christian Academy, may have to be abandoned.

“I can just add another class at home,” Carly said.

But a caveat to the caveat is that swimming is not regulated by TSSAA in Tennessee, and Sullivan County schools’ swim programs are under the auspices of USA Swim, which Carly’s mother said has welcomed homeschoolers in other states.

Parents at the meeting also asked about dual enrollment status with local colleges. The TSSAA regulations say enrollment in anything but an independent homeschool program disqualifies a homeschooler from participating in a public school athletic program.

Kane said the law likely will be tweaked by the General Assembly in coming years. The lawmaker recalled that he put his homeschooled children into public schools so they could compete in track and field and running and get exposure for college scholarships, which they got.

“Had we stayed in the homeschool arena, that probably would not have been able to do that,” Kane said, calling the legislation a “reasonable accommodation.”

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