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Outside the Lines: Who's Eligible to Play High School Sports?

Outside The Lines - Who's Eligible to Play High School Sports?

Bob Ley, host - Chances are you were part of a high School sporting event this early October weekend, either as a player or as a spectator. And depending upon where you live, that game might have included a student who is Home Schooled, a youngster who does not attend classes with his or her teammates, but does participate with them in sports.

Now there are more Home Schooled students than ever before in the United States, by some estimates more than 1.5 million children, a 30 percent increase in the past nine years.

The Home School movement was born of religious and philosophical objections with public education. But it has grown with other motivations for Parents to teach their own children.

Questions about the quality of such an education are met with studies that cite Home Schooled students outscoring public and private School students on standardized tests, such as the SAT. Academic skills apParently can be nurtured at Home. But athletic skills in a team sport require coaching and competition.

State laws on Home Schooling vary widely, as do athletic regulations, leaving many Home School athletes with a skill and limited options to pursue it. Kelly Neal examines the problem for one family that is balancing the belief in Home Schooling against the desire to play.

Kelly Neal, ESPN Correspondent - In rural southern Illinois where family values run strong, unusual attention is being paid to two brothers, Seth and Saul Huber. Seth was last year's most valuable player for the Hillsboro High School Hilltoppers.

Unidentified Male - Are you guys ready? What time is it?

Unidentified Males - Game time!

Unidentified Male - 1, 2, 3...

Unidentified Males - Toppers!

Neal - But the Huber brothers will not be playing in today's game or in any game this season because of a controversial new ruling, which now makes it difficult for children who are Home Schooled to play on their local high School team.

Are you angry?

Seth Huber, Home Schooled Student - I'm not angry. I just...

Neal - Why not?

S. Huber - I don't know. It's not going to help to be angry about it.

Neal - Does it make you angry that they can't play with you?

Matt Smith, Hillsboro High School - Yeah. I'm sure a lot of guys are angry. But we've just got to overcome it the best we can.

Erik Bevers, Hillsboro High School - I'm upset because they've played with me for a long time. I've played against them too when we were littler. And they're really good kids. And they're taking it out like they're Home Schooled kids that don't do anything.

Cindi Huber, Home School Parent - Why don't you go ahead and work on your government right now. And, Saul, I'd like you to do a little in biology.

Neal - The Huber brothers have always been educated at home by their Parents, graduating from the couch to the kitchen table. Today's lessons are shared with front page news about their situation, which essentially pits the public school system against Home Schoolers.

Last fall, the Illinois High School Association passed a measure banning all Home Schooler from extracurricular activities, including athletics. David Fry is the executive director of the IHSA.

Fry - If this high School is not a good enough place to go to school all day and get all the rest of your education, and since participation in athletics is a privilege, not a protected right under the constitution, then if you're not going to go here, you shouldn't play for us and be our representative either.

Neal - Hillsboro High School Principal Larry Ackerman was a staunch supporter of the ban.

Ackerman - If there's four Home Schooled kids starting on the soccer team, there's obviously four of my kids who are regular attenders who are not starting, who would be starting if it weren't for Home Schooled kids.

Neal - Don Dillion, principal of neighboring Greenville High School, liked the idea because it closed a potential loophole.

Don Dillion, Principal, Greenville High School - Some very talented basketball players could theoretically say, "We're going to go to school at blank high school. We're going to play for them. We're not going to go to school. But we're going to play for them," and in effect never attend a day of school, never have attended a day of school in that place.

And if the local people were basically greedy enough to want to have a state champion out of that, it would really not be representative of that school and what it's about.

Unidentified Female - OK, those of you that were absent yesterday...

Ackerman - My high school kids come to school every day, have to be in school, have to pass classes in order to participate. I've never heard of a Home Schooled parent or Home Schooled student being declared ineligible by his parents.

Neal - The IHSA's decision to ban all Home Schoolers encountered a setback when Fry was confronted by long-time Illinois State Representative Mary Lou Cowlishaw.

Cowlishaw - During that conversation, I think he came to realize that I meant business. I don't want the IHSA to create any rule. I want the local elected Board of Education to make that decision for itself.

Neal - Pressure from Cowlishaw forced the IHSA to reevaluate its position.

Fry - It was clear that the language of the first proposal made it simply illegal. It was assuming authority for the association that is exclusively the prerogative of local boards of education under the statutes.

Unidentified Male - Wait, wait, wait, hold it, hold it, hold it...

Neal - The past spring, the IHSA amended its bylaw and now empowered local school boards to make their own decisions regarding Home Schooled students who want to play sports.

If the Hubers wanted to play soccer, they'd have to satisfy these three IHSA requirements. The student must be enrolled in high school, must take a minimum of 20 credit hours in a program approved by the school, and must be granted credit by the school for their work.

Fry - It strikes me as really a fairly simple and pretty common sense kind of thing to do.

Neal - But the Hillsboro School District and other school districts in Illinois didn't find how to interpret the IHSA's mandate simple at all.

Ackerman - It's not a question of the parents submitting to the bylaws. It's a question of the school district accepting the bylaws as the fact that they're going to accept Home Schooled kids.

Neal - Why is Seth Huber not playing soccer right now at Hillsboro?

Don Burton, School Superintendent, Hillsboro District - Well, the best way I can answer that is simply to say that we do not have a policy -- this board of education, this school district does not have a policy which basically allows or meets the guidelines of the IHSA to where they can play.

Neal - The biggest stumbling block, according to Hillsboro Superintendent Don Burton, was the last sentence of an IHSA letter he received in August, which read - "Schools that choose to adopt this policy are essentially saying that the Home School students are now their students and the school has determined that the appropriate placement for the student is in the Home School."

Burton - And that's where I really draw the line. I don't believe in many cases that that is true.

C. Huber - I don't claim that it's the best way for everyone. I would challenge any of you to say that that was not the best placement for my children.

Neal - At a well-attended school board meeting, Huber defended Home Schooling, the way she has educated all four of her children, two of whom are now in college.

Burton - I don't like taking something away from a student. And I feel like we've done this in this situation.

I do think that there will be other cases that arise. I do think that sooner or later, I think the state legislature is going to have to deal with the Home Schooling concept. And I think the IHSA will want to review their bylaw as well.

Neal - The Home Schooling controversy may ultimately be decided here, at the Illinois State Capitol, in the form of House Bill 3288. State Representative Cowlishaw, who introduced the bill, hopes to abolish the IHSA's new bylaw and says the bill could be voted on as early as mid-November.

Meanwhile, Home Schooled athletes such as Seth Huber can only watch from the sidelines and wonder what their lost season might have been like. For Outside The Lines, I'm Kelly Neal.

Ley - Do Home Schooled athletes have the right to play on their local high school sports teams? When we return, I'll talk with a congressman who supports Home Schooling, an educator who believes Home Schooled athletes have no place on interscholastic teams, and the father of a basketball player who left Home Schooling to win a college basketball scholarship.

Ley - The rights of Home Schooled athletes against the interests of public education. To discuss it, we welcome from Ft. Wayne, Indiana, Congressman Mark Souder. He serves on the Education and the Workforce Committee.

From Chicago, Larry Janes, an educational consultant who has served as a superintendent in his career. And from Memphis, Danny Loe, whose son Jonathan left Home Schooling for public School to win a basketball scholarship. And Jonathan Loe this past week accepted a scholarship to Ole Miss.

Congressman, why should parents who've made an affirmative decision to not put their kids in public school, to Home School them, have the right to have those same kids play on public school teams?

Rep. Mark Souder, Education & Workforce Committee - They pay the principal's salary. They pay the coach's salary. They pay for building the stadium. They pay for the uniforms. It seems like they could play. If you're going to pay, you ought to be able to play.

It's an element of fairness. Illegal immigrants are -- and should be -- allowed to participate in education even though they don't pay taxes. Kids with disabilities in IDEA are allowed into private schools and schools of their choice and can still be involved in public school activities.

It's a matter of fairness. You shouldn't be discriminated against because of your religious and political views.

Ley - Mr. Janes, is it that simple?

Larry Janes, Education Consultant - I think it's far more complex than that. I think it's a Pandora's box.

Ley - How so?

Janes - Well, sir, we have very little oversight to the Home Schooling. Various states deal with them in different ways. There are about 20 states now that somehow legislatively or otherwise recognize the right to play.

In our particular state, once we enroll the child, which is required under the law, then that student will have to have a comparable program because those courses count toward graduation. We have a recognized state board of education program in Illinois that is strictly correspondence.

It does not parrot exactly the standards of this state, which we are required to follow. It creates basically a two-track diplomaing system.

Ley - So you're concerned about the oversight of Home Schooling. Let's turn for a second to one of the few Home School athletes who has really made a name for himself, in fact the only one to our knowledge in the National Football League. His name is Jason Taylor.

He plays for the Miami Dolphins. He's a defense end. He attended Akron University.

And when he was a high school student in greater Pittsburgh, he was allowed to play high school sports in a public school environment. We talked to him recently about this entire issue.

Jason Taylor, Dolphins defensive end - There's no reason why they shouldn't be allowed to play. It's not like we're weird or whatever, just a little different. We just do it a different way. And there's no reason why they shouldn't be able to participate.

They pay taxes, school tax, the local tax and everything else. There's no reason why they can't play sports.

Ley - Here's the principle, Mr. Janes, his first words involved taxes. In fact, talking to a number people, that's the first words out of their mouth, taxes, we pay the way.

Janes - I pay taxes for a lot of things for which I receive no benefit. I pay taxes so we have an appropriate society, both economically, morally, and the other fabrics of society that go with that. I don't get the benefit of everything I pay for.

Ley - Let me turn to Mr. Loe for just a moment. Your son, skilled basketball player. You decided for his senior year of high school to re-enroll him in public education. You had your choice of high schools, did you not? You could shop for a School.

Danny Loe, parent of former Home Schooler - Well, in a way that's true. We could. In Memphis city schools, you don't have to live in a particular district and kind of attend any of the programs.

The program we eventually chose, Bartlett High School, you have to live in the district. So we moved to that district to be able to attend that school.

Ley - Mr. Janes, you worry that that's illustrative of what could evolve into a problem.

Janes - We know that could be a problem, sir. Right now in some of our states, we're not even permitted to monitor a Home School whatsoever. In Florida, the association cut an agreement down there with the Home Schoolers Association because of legislative pressure. And they're on the honor system.

And I've taken grades for Home Schoolers off the back of envelopes that they wrote while standing in my office. The honor system? I don't want that. I hope Illinois doesn't go to that if they legislate it.

Ley - Congressman, I suspect you disagree.

Souder - It's just ridiculous. I mean, we have all kinds of problems with public education and all sorts of education. And we're trying to address those problems.

The one group that seems to be succeeding are Home Schoolers. Not only are their test scores 10 percent higher than public schools, last year they had a higher and a record number of Home School students take the scores. And they went up.

Rather than criticize Home Schoolers, we need to be working with teachers and schools all over America to get public school education up. Now if a problem starts to occur, then we have Stanford (ph) tests, Iowa tests, PSAT, SAT, ACT. If a problem was really there, let's address it. But don't smear Home Schoolers because some people are upset that they aren't in the public school system.

Ley - Mr. Loe, you held your son back, did you not, one year, your wife and you, schooling him at Home?

Loe - Yes, that's correct. In the eighth grade, we held him back so that he would be able to attend school at home for 12 years and then go to a public school if necessary.

And let me say, too, that I think the issue is not where they attend school. The issue -- the ultimate issue for everyone involved should be the education of the child.

And I think -- I agree with the congressman that if you test, if you have national standardized tests, and Home Schoolers pass those tests, and even in a lot of cases exceed the public school children or private school children, then I don't really see that that's the issue.

The question then becomes do we want to protect the bureaucracy, or do we want to educate the children?

Ley - OK, Mr. Janes, I'm going to promise you a chance to respond to that and the entire issue of how well kids do Home Schooled on standardized tests when we continue with Congressman Mark Souder and Larry Janes and Danny Loe considering the rights of Home Schooled athletes to compete in public school.

Ley - We continue now with Congressman Mark Souder, Larry Janes, and Danny Loe considering Home School athletes and their rights as athletes in public education. And Mr. Janes, I promise you a chance to address the argument that is made that standardized tests prove that Home Schooled kids do very well academically.

Janes - When we look at standardized tests, first we have to look at the total population that takes that test. And regretfully, when we look at the ACT in Illinois, 70 percent of public school students take that test. But I would assuredly be correct if I'd said not all Home Schoolers take that test at that percentage rate.

Ley - What about the SAT, though? Virtually, everybody takes that.

Janes - SAT, we'll be taking that. But again, do Home Schoolers take it unless they're intending to go to college?

Souder - If you want to make that argument to prove your case, in other words this is an attempt to deny students something that their parents have paid for, to participate in joint efforts, restrict their religious and philosophical rights of parents on the basis of no evidence -- in other words, it's not clear that 100 percent of Home Schoolers -- we don't know that either. But before you make an assertion, you ought to check the assertion.

Janes - Well, I would like to suggest that when you can't even register them legally within your own state, that's very difficult to do, Congressman. So maybe we have something inherent to Illinois.

I don't believe that however. I've studied all the 50 states' stats on their laws.

Souder - There also has...

Janes - They vary tremendously.

Souder - ... On the illegal immigrants, the children which we believe should be covered in education, for example there we don't even know where their parents are, but we don't make sweeping judgments about those parents.

Here what we do know is that record numbers of Home School kids are taking the tests. And they're outperforming public school students.

Ley - Mr. Loe, let me ask you if I could, what did the college scouts tell you about your son's chance to get a Division One scholarship if he continued to play in Home School leagues?

Loe - Well, the issue as far as competition goes is that there's not enough data on Home School athletics competition. Although there are some very good athletes playing Home School basketball, which is a sport my son plays. For instance, Kevin Johnson, who is at Tulsa University now, a Division One School, was also a Home Schooler.

They told us that they needed to be able to rate him. They needed him to play against consistent competition.

However, there were three or four schools that offered him a scholarship because we were also considering letting him go ahead and graduate early. So there were three or four colleges based on his ACT scores, his academics, and his basketball abilities, they were willing to offer him a scholarship and bypass this year.

Ley - But you're putting him in public school to increase the visibility even though he's already accepted a scholarship.

Loe - Well, we're putting him in public school primarily to hone his schools. The coach, Huby Smith (ph), at Bartlett High School is widely known and is one of the best coaches in the state as far as teaching fundamental basketball. And his program is considered to be a college level program.

Ley - Congressman, let me ask you if I could bring up the concern that has been raised about ringers, about Home School fraud with athletes. There has been so much academic fraud in collegiate sports and questions about parochial and public high schools recruiting athletes in the past. Is that a legitimate concern?

Souder - Several things. First off, in Indiana, ringers are a big concern in high school basketball. And clearly, as we move to variations of public school choice -- desegregation, charter schools, and other things -- we're going to have to address the local residency questions separate from school registration questions as was the case there in Memphis.

The other question on ringers, if we start to see a problem where we really see an upsurge in Home Schoolers who appear to be trying to dodge the athletic requirements, then that school district should aggressively address that through the standard tests that are already there, Iowa, Stanford, PSAT, ACT and SAT.

Ley - Congressman, who should make the decision here? Should it be a state law, local school board, federal involvement?

Souder - Obviously, it should first be local schools, then the state. As the federal share increases, there is more pressure on the federal government. We clearly had to do that for handicapped students. We're clearly having to do that for Hispanic students and others that have been discriminated against in some states.

Ley - Mr. Janes, are you comfortable with local control on this issue?

Janes - No, I'm not. I'm very uncomfortable with a lot of this because quite frankly we have no way at this time of validating all such students in our particular state. And there are other states that face that same dilemma.

Ley - OK, we'll have to leave it right there, gentlemen. Thank you very much. Thank you to Congressman Mark Souder, to Larry Janes, and to Danny Loe.

Next, the fallout on Olympic drugs and the personal side of coaching when we continue Outside The Lines.

Ley - The legacy of the Sydney Olympic games, for Americans at least, may be the criticism and the scrutiny that U.S. drug testing policies received from the rest of the sporting world. Last week, we examined questions surrounding the unique way the U.S. disciplines athletes who do test positive. And the reaction to our e-mail inbox, including this observation - "I realize that ratings are always important to programming executives, and that you as "journalists" have a responsibility to report the news. However, as part of the viewing public, I implore you to report it both accurately and fairly to those individuals that you report on.

"While I'm not a conspiracy theorist, the timing of the C.J. Hunter announcement seems a little suspect. Why is it news now when it was not news then?"

And from Spartanburg, South Carolina - "I often wonder how blind people can be. Since the Atlanta pep rally in '96, I've been astounded at how these sprinters and track athletes could strut across any bodybuilding stage. As a drug-free power lifter and holder of several state records, I have slaved away in the weight room for decades and don't have shoulders like some of these track stars. It's like watching WWF and assuming that Hulk Hogan got that big from wrestling."

Those comments sent to us online at The keyword to type in, otlweekly, and you'll be taken to our site that includes for the many requests we receive for copies a complete collection of streaming video and transcripts of all our Sunday morning programs. That's also where you can send your e-mail comments and suggestions to our address,

Ley - Tuesday evening at 7 Eastern, Outside The Lines looks at the side of coaching the public rarely sees, the personal and private side full of sacrifice. Included, there's a roundtable I conducted with coaches Jim Calhoun, Mike Jarvis and Bill Curry about the issue of what they've missed in their family lives to build their careers.

Unidentified Male - My deepest regret is the fact that I missed so much of our children while I was helping raise other people's children.

Unidentified Male - Have I missed on baseball games and other things? All of us have, without question. But my wife travels as much as she can to games. And we've tried to make our family a part of it.

Ley - Was there ever a point when any of you wondered will I get that job -- capital J -- the one that will define my career? Is this worth it? Am I beating my head against the wall?

Unidentified Male - And I thought I was going to be the head coach at Harvard. And luckily for me, I didn't get the job. But at that time, it was the most disappointing day in my life. And I remember crying on my bed, and my wife coming in and saying, "Something better is going to come along. Don't worry about it."

Ley - Tuesday Outside The Lines, "The Coaching Life." That's Tuesday at 7 Eastern, Outside The Lines directly after "SportsCenter."

Our ESPN NFL game this Sunday evening, one of the great stories in the league this year, the Baltimore Ravens taking on Jacksonville at 8:30 Eastern right after "NFL Primetime" at 7:30.

Another edition of "SportsCenter" is coming along right here in 30 minutes. "NFL Countdown" 60 minutes away.

We will see you next Sunday morning Outside The Lines. Now to the ESPN Zone in Times Square for Dick Schaap and "The Sports Reporters."

I'm Bob Ley. Thanks for joining us.

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 Bob Ley looks at the homeschooled athlete and their right to play high school sports.
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