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Carlson’s take on home-schoolers playing public sports just wrong

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By John Herndon

Ben Carlson is my boss, but when it comes to whether home-schooled children should be allowed to play sports on school teams, he’s just wrong.
A week ago, Carlson penned a column asking what would it hurt if children whose parents have opted to educate their children at home instead of in a public or private school were allowed to play interscholastic sports.
He also referred to a “remarkably intense debate” in our office. As you might have guessed, I am the person who countered his argument. To his credit, Carlson has allowed me the chance to respond.
Let me say up front that while I would not opt to home school my children, I will support the right of parents to educate their children by any legal means they see fit.
But before we even look at the numerous answers to Carlson’s question, I need to address his flawed conclusion. Carlson wrote: “Sand away the veneer and the same people who proudly proclaim, ‘It’s all about children!’ from one side of their mouths use the other to make it clear that ‘the children’ doesn’t include ‘those children.’”
Frankly, that was a baseless dig at public school administrators and coaches.
As one who has been writing extensively about high school sports since 1985, I have gotten to know many coaches, athletic directors, principals and superintendents in Anderson and surrounding counties. While I often disagree with their decisions, I have seen time and again that most really are about the kids.
I have seen coaches go the second and third mile to give kids every possible opportunity. Many put in hours that would make their coaching salaries fall far below the minimum wage. I know of instances where a coach is the closest thing to stability in a kid’s life. I know of some writing that extra letter to get a kid into college or advising on career plans. And all of us know of men and women who will point to the caring coach, teacher or administrator as being the difference in their lives.
On top of that, public schools receive SEEK (Support Education Excellence in Kentucky) money for every child enrolled. The formula basically boils down to the more children enrolled in and attending a school, the more money it will receive.
Saying that adults don’t want certain children involved in their school ignores this very simple fact.
But what would it hurt to have home schooled kids participating in high school sports? After all, more than 20 states allow the practice in some form.
Suffice it to say there are many problematic areas.
First, the Kentucky Department of Education requires that children be in school at least four hours per day in order to play in interscholastic sports. While there are many home-schooling parents who are very conscientious and demanding of their children, there are others who are not. Can you imagine the difficulty school administrators would have in verifying such information and ensuring it to be true, if even a handful of home-schooled kids joined school teams?
Secondly, there is the issue of educational fairness. No, I am not discrediting home-schooled children’s academic progress. However, most home-school programs use, by their own choice, curriculum that is different from that of the public schools. While that choice is certainly backed with valid reasons, the bottom line is that kids would be operating under different academic circumstances in order to play sports for the same school.
And I am not even going to attempt to address the insurance and liability issues involving kids who are not enrolled in a school using the same school’s athletic facilities to represent it. That one is for the lawyers and accountants.
Thirdly, there is the issue of athletic fairness, easily the most visible of the issues surrounding the question. If home-schooled kids are allowed to play sports for a public school, who is to stop a less-than-scrupulous person from bringing together a group of jocks to create an Oak Hill Lite?
If someone can’t see that as an issue of hurting kids who play by the rules, he or she simply does not want to look.
I might interject that supporters point to former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow as the poster child for home-schooled kids being able to play for public schools. The state of Florida, where he grew up, allows the practice as long as someone lives in the school’s district.
What is often left out of his story is that Tebow did exactly what I am alluding to in moving into an apartment in a different district after playing for one school, but wanting the opportunity to play for another.
With some of the alleged shenanigans already going on regarding transfers in high school sports, why should it be taken to another level?
Even with all of those reasons, the issue goes far beyond “What does it hurt?”  
Carlson is not the first to offer that question and he certainly won’t be the last. And never have I heard the counter, “Who does it help?”
In truth, the question “What does it hurt?” is a simple tactic to deflect thinking from the real issue: Making a choice and living by it.
That is the bottom line, pure and simple. You make a choice, you live with the ramifications and consequences of that choice.
Proponents of home-schoolers playing for public schools often bark, “I want to be able to educate my kids in the way I want to!”
No one is stopping that.  You can choose public schools and their extra-curricular activities. You can choose private schools and what they have to offer. Or, you can choose home school and what it has to offer.
Or those who would disagree with me will say, “But what if my child is the next Tim Tebow? I want him to play against the best competition for a college scholarship.”
Again, that is your choice. Go back to the previous paragraph. Look up home-schooling associations that form teams or find schools, such as Christian Academy of Lawrenceburg, that participate in leagues which allow those kids to play.
Then, check out AAU, select and travel teams. If you do your homework, you will find that in today’s world, that is where the bulk of recruiting is done anyway.
Or, if a kid is that good, you can always move to Florida.
The bottom line is clear: If a school is not good enough to educate a child, why is it suddenly good enough for a child to have the privilege of playing a sport or take part in any extra-curricular activity, such as band or FFA?
That is where those who propose home-schoolers playing for public schools are often mistaken. You see, being part of a school team is a privilege granted to those who meet certain academic, behavioral and enrollment standards. If it were an inalienable right, heaven help a coach who cuts a home-schooled child from his team.
I am often amused by the irony of those who oppose my position. I know several who chose to successfully home-school their children and I admire the passion for their cause. They tend to be faith-based, conservative and flag-waving people who want to get government off their backs. I have much in common with them.
However, on this issue, they are driven by a false sense of entitlement. They made a choice to pull their kids out of public school for the meat, but want the same school there for the gravy.
And if their wishes are granted, they simply add more bureaucracy and more red tape for everyone, whether intended or not.
It is akin to a person registering as a Democrat but wanting to vote in the Republican primary. It is the person who moves to the country, then complains about smelling the hog farm down the road. Sorry, but you can’t have it both ways.
That’s because the lesson that kids should learn early is “In the game of life, you play by the rules.”