States having trouble passing "Tebow laws"

On Fridays in the fall, Tate Forcier doesn't feel like going to school. The night's game is on his mind, and the quarterback for Scripps Ranch High in San Diego can't imagine studying a textbook rather than studying a defense.

No big deal.

"I'll tell my teacher, 'I have a game today,'" Forcier said. "He'll say, 'That's fine; you don't have to come.' And I'll go to my football school and watch film all day."

Forcier is different than most recruits. A member of the ESPNU150 (No. 141) and the 14th best quarterback in the country, he thrives in an alternative educational setting.

For two years at a public school, he was "getting left behind," his father, Mike, said.

Now, he attends The Charter School of San Diego, a one-room facility where one student takes one class at a time with one teacher for three hours, two days a week.

Technically, it's a charter school. Tate Forcier calls it "homeschooling, without a teacher coming to you."

Because the school receives public money, the 6-foot-1, 183-pound University of Michigan commitment stars at Scripps Ranch, which is his local public school.

"Kids at other schools are always like, 'You're so cool; you're so lucky to do that,'" said Forcier, who has doubled his workload to graduate in December. "It's incredible. It's like tutoring. I use every advantage I can get."

Forcier is lucky. His alternative schooling option allows him to participate in public school sports.

Many of the roughly 2 million children who take part in the most popular form of alternative schooling -- homeschooling -- are not so lucky. Only 24 states allow homeschoolers to participate in extracurricular activities at public schools.

What if Forcier were in such a situation?

"Couldn't even imagine," he said.

Added his father: "I'd have moved wherever we needed to."

It is an issue that divides the education community.

Since homeschooling became legal in all 50 states in 1993, the number of participating families has escalated. The reasons vary.

The Forciers chose the concept because Tate needed more one-on-one attention and more time to focus on athletics.

Dr. Byron Ketchum of Russellville, Ala., homeschooled eight of his nine children because he was not happy with the lack of religious education in public schools.

Bob Tebow homeschooled all five of his children because he believes the Bible says parents should, above all else, teach God's word. The Tebows, including Tim, the University of Florida's Heisman Trophy-winning quarterback, studied with academics as the third focus, after God and character.

"In the Constitution, [parents] have the right to direct the lives of their children," Bob Tebow said, referencing the U.S. Supreme Court ruling in the 1925 case of Pierce v. Society of Sister.

By now, Tim Tebow's story is well known. Because of the passing of a state law in 1996, he was allowed to be homeschooled and play for Nease High in Florida.

"How can we deny these people the rights when they pay taxes? That was the issue in the Florida legislature," said Bob Tebow, who added he would have moved to where Tim could play.

Nease won a state title in 2005 under coach Craig Howard, and Tim Tebow became a top prospect. With Tebow in the shotgun, the school suddenly had thousands of fans, played a game on ESPN and earned unknown riches.

"The cash registers were ringing," Howard said. "The years before, we were every team's homecoming game. Suddenly, Florida coach Urban Meyer and USC coach Pete Carroll were flocking to this little school. And as a result, five or six other kids got scholarships."

There also was controversy.

"People said we lacked sportsmanship, that we shouldn't play a homeschool kid," Howard said. "From coaches, parents. It was ugly."

In states such as Mississippi, Georgia, Hawaii and Maryland, homeschooled athletes like Tebow aren't allowed to play. For such states without equal-access laws -- including Alabama and its attempts at a "Tim Tebow Bill" -- progress has been minimal.

The argument in favor of equal access is that homeschoolers should receive the benefits of the taxes paid by their parents and that it's not right to punish children who do not choose their method of schooling.

In homeschool-heavy Mississippi, proposed legislation never made it out of committee. Videt Carmichael (R-District 33), the chair of the senate's education committee, said he vaguely recalled such a bill. Sen. Gray Tollison (D-District 9), who supports it, explained why it has received little to no traction.

"The general attitude among some people is, if they don't go to public school, they shouldn't be allowed to participate in public school sports," Tollison said. "Either you're in or you're out, they feel."

Dr. Ennis Proctor, executive director of the Mississippi High School Activities Association, said he would be "proactive" if the law were changed.

"But the majority of superintendents oppose it, because they feel like those students don't attend school with the same requirements as other students," Proctor said. "They don't want them to take someone else's place on the team."

Interestingly, one of the main homeschooling voices, the Home School Legal Defense Association, is officially neutral. In a perfect world, it believes all children should be allowed to play sports.

"But we want to keep homeschoolers free," said Chris Klicka, the organization's legal counsel. "As the homeschoolers get to public schools, public schools usually put on restrictions that they wouldn't otherwise have."

Being banned from public school teams is reality for some.

The Ketchum family has gone against its ideal of education and enrolled two of its children in high-powered Briarwood Christian Academy in Birmingham: daughter and future Auburn basketball player Ruth, who was searching for a basketball scholarship, and son Phillip, who wants to pursue football in college.

Parents in Alabama, Georgia and Tennessee have gone so far as to create homeschool sports leagues to give such children an outlet. But these leagues generally can field only eight-man football teams, and it's not the same experience. In Alabama, the cost is $400 per person, compared to nothing at a public school.

"We moved Phillip, primarily because of athletics," said Byron Ketchum, who now pays $5,000 annually in tuition. "It was a desire to get him in a more competitive situation."

Houston Walker of Homewood, Ala., made a similar decision. After years in the homeschool league, the 6-foot-1, 215-pound running back/linebacker chose Homewood High for its visibility.

"I think [if I hadn't transferred], I would not see near the [scholarship] opportunity I'm seeing now," Walker said. "But I do miss seeing my family."

In San Diego, Tate Forcier has no such problems. He attended public school for nearly two years but veered off track by getting into trouble while hanging out with older students, his father said.

About to pull his son from school, Mike Forcier was informed of the system's form of homeschool, the charter school.

"He wasn't getting the special attention he needed," said Forcier, who added that Tate's SAT score now is nearly good enough for him to attend Stanford.

Tate Forcier, who essentially redid his freshman and sophomore years at the charter school, said the workload is similar.

"It's not like I do homeschooling, then play videogames at home," Forcier said. "I'm always doing something. This summer, I had the option to go to the beach and not do my homeschooling. But I stayed and went to school."

There is an added benefit for the player who might one day run coach Rich Rodriguez's spread offense. Because he can set his own schedule, he is able to attend extra workouts with Marv Marinovich, a trainer for the Sports Lab in San Juan Capistrano, Calif.

"Most kids don't do more than two or three workouts a week because they're so busy," Forcier said. "I'm doing five or six. On the train [to the workout], I'm doing homework. On the way back, homework. We broke it down pretty well."

Forcier said that when father and son first discussed the possibility of such a schedule, his father had one reaction about the benefits: "Now, we're going to build your ass up until you look like Tebow."

Ian R. Rapoport covers University of Alabama athletics for The Birmingham News. He can be reached at irapoport@bhamnews.com.