Sports teams, bands open to home-schoolers
By JAMIE BAKER
Beginning Sept. 29, more than 24,000 home-schooled and parochial schoolchildren can participate in extracurricular activities in their home public school district.
A provision in the state budget signed into law at the end of June requires public school districts to allow these students to participate in athletics and other extracurricular activities, such as band, choir and school clubs.
"There is a vision in the Legislature that doesn't come anywhere close to what our vision of high school sports is all about," Ohio High School Athletic Association Commissioner Daniel Ross told a group of northwestern Ohio school administrators last week.
"The question, the longer and the more time we spend dealing with the Legislature, is: Where are high school sports going to be in five to 10 years? I just don't know," Ross said.
Previously, the OHSAA, which governs middle and high school sports, left it to each school district to decide whether to allow home-school students to participate on athletic teams.
Many districts allowed the students to participate as long as there was at least some partial enrollment at the school.
Other districts took an all-or-nothing approach. If a home-schooler wanted to participate in school activities, he or she had to be a full-time student.
Ross told school officials the new rules were "foisted" on the OHSAA and its member schools by the Legislature.
He said it had worked well to have local school boards decide whether they would let home-schoolers participate.
"I don't like that fact that a youngster just shows up at 3:30 (p.m.), and then he's yours. I think we lose something that could have been gained by the schools, coaches, and people getting to know that student in a school setting," Ross said.
State Rep. Dave Hall, R-Millersburg, inserted the amendment into the budget bill without objection from colleagues.
The OHSAA and its lobbyists failed to get the provision out of the budget bill, which was signed into law by Gov. John Kasich on June 29.
Under the law, if the public school of residence doesn't offer the sport or activity a home-schooler is interested in, the student can participate in the activity at a nearby school that does offer it, as long as that school's superintendent agrees.
The new provision also affects private school students.
For example, Findlay-based St. Michael and Heritage Christian schools don't have school-sponsored wrestling teams.
A St. Michael or Heritage Christian student who wanted to wrestle and resided in the Findlay School District could participate at either Glenwood, Donnell or Findlay High School.
The students would have to meet the same eligibility requirements as any other student participating in the activity.
For small private schools with limited athletic offerings, the change could lead to expanded opportunities for their students.
"I have mixed emotions, because I need all the soccer players I've got," said Heritage Christian Principal Tim England, who doubles as the school's soccer coach.
"But if we have some kids who might want to play football or another sport we don't offer, and the parents and the kids want to do it, why not?" he said.
"I'm a big fan of individual sports like wrestling and track. We don't have those teams, but those sports teach discipline and some different lessons than team sports do and those lessons are good for kids."
But with the new rule there is the potential for a home-schooled student to play three different sports at three different schools.
For example, a home-school student in the Arcadia district who wanted to play football would be allowed to play for Arcadia.
If he wanted to swim, he could join the Findlay swim team during the winter because Arcadia doesn't offer swimming.
If he wanted to play tennis in the spring, he could have the opportunity to play at Fostoria.
"We were joking around the office that you could have 10 letter-winners on your basketball team where one goes to your school and the other nine you never see (in classes). Do I believe that's what's coming? Yes," Ross said.
"We had a lot of meetings this spring with downtown people in Columbus. They made it extremely clear that choice is the direction that Ohio is going to go," Ross said.
"...We never really perceived ourselves as restricting choice, but we also believe there ought to be a standard and that standard should be applied through the administrators at our member schools," he said.