Legislation that will require public schools to allow home-schooled students to participate in sports only needs Governor Bill Haslam's signature to become law.
Both the senate and house have passed the bill and it now awaits the Governor's signature. Parents of home schooled children are cheering the decision, but some schools are concerned the law will mean student athletes will not be playing by the same rules.
TSSAA currently allows individual public school boards to decide whether or not to permit homeschool students to participate in athletics. Alcoa City Schools is among the districts that does not permit home-schooled students to play ball.
"The school board's decision was that no one outside Alcoa City Schools is allowed to play athletics here," said Josh Stephens, Alcoa High School athletic director.
Stephens said the decision to leave home-school students off the rosters was due to a desire to have everyone follow the same rulebook for grades, conduct, and attendance.
"The hard part about home-schoolers and allowing them to play is the fact that our athletes, if they don't attend school that day they don't play. So with that home-school student, how are you going to mandate that? Things also get complicated in terms of grades. Some home-school kids might have academic requirements that are extremely tough, but others might not. Our kids, we know if they are getting an F or if they are not carrying themselves the right way," said Stephens.
Home-school student have made plenty of successful sports headlines in East Tennessee. Tim Tebow made a couple of triumphant visits to Knoxville with the Florida Gators. An athlete closer to the hearts of UT fans also comes from a home-school environment. The Lady Vols' Taber Spani was home-schooled in Missouri.
Parents who home-school say their intentions are not to obtain stardom via public school athletics. Rather, the attraction to sports is another opportunity to educate their children.
"There are so many lessons to be learned for how to deal with people, how to deal with people in a group and team setting," said Rhonda Bradley.
Bradley home-schools her 18-year-old daughter and 15-year-old son. Bradley's children compete in athletics by playing for an all home-school team called the Knoxville Ambassadors. The Ambassadors recently won the home-school national championship in girls basketball. The team already plays against private and public high schools.
"We play all of the local private Christian schools. We usually play 1A and 2A schools, so actually that is the biggest part of our schedule is public school sports," said Bradley.
Bradley says her family would still choose to participate with the Ambassadors if the law changes. However, she believes home-schooled children should be able to choose to try out for public school sports.
"As home-school parents, we pay taxes to support these [public] schools. I'm all for kids being able to play for their sports teams," said Bradley.
The rules currently say if home-school students want to play sports at public schools, they are only able to play for the public school where their residence is zoned. This rule is intended to prevent the next Tim Tebow or Taber Spani from starting a recruiting war amongst public schools.