BCS National Championship: Tim Tebow a shining example for homeschooled athletes

by Jenni Carlson Modified: January 7, 2009 at 12:40 pm •  Published: January 2, 2009
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Justin McCullough has a simple reason for loving football.

"I like hitting people,” he said.

The teenager is broad and stout, perfectly suited for the offensive line and for popping defenders. But even though he lives in Oklahoma City, he can’t play for Douglass or Southeast or any other high school in the district.

Truth is, he can’t play for any public school in the state.

McCullough is homeschooled.

Oklahoma does not allow homeschool students to participate in public school athletics. While the state remains in the majority, the number of states allowing homeschoolers to play has grown to 24.

And the movement might get a boost from its highest-profile poster child ever — Tim Tebow.

The Florida quarterback was the youngest of Bob and Pam Tebow’s five children, all of whom were homeschooled by their deeply religious parents. Because of a Florida law that allows homeschoolers to play sports in the public school district where they live, Tebow played football for Nease High School in Jacksonville.

There, he won a state title and national acclaim. A scholarship to Florida followed, and Tebow has since won a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.

Thing is, had Florida not enacted its law in 1996, Tebow wouldn’t have played football in high school.

"None of them would have played,” Tebow’s father once told the Florida Times-Union. "We weren’t going to back off our commitment to homeschooling just to go play football somewhere.”

There are options for homeschoolers in Oklahoma, including several homeschool teams in numerous sports. While those programs are growing, they are still limited.

Could that change?

Could Oklahoma one day have the Tim Tebow Bill on the books?

Numbers increase
Oklahoma has some of the most favorable homeschooling laws in the country. Requirements are few. Regulations are minimal.

The state, in fact, is the only one with a constitutional provision that guarantees the right to homeschool.

While hard and fast numbers are difficult to come by — the state isn’t allowed to count homeschoolers —anecdotal evidence suggests homeschool numbers are on the rise in Oklahoma.

Still, there hasn’t been a push to enact a law or change the rule in more than a decade.

Ed Foster remembers it well.

The former Oklahoma lineman and his wife homeschooled their five children, and living in Norman, they found abundant athletic opportunities for their elementary-age kids. There were YMCA leagues and rec teams aplenty.

Then, the children started hitting high school.

"Then it was like, our kids want to keep doing this,” Foster said. "What do we do?”

Even though the Fosters were already involved with the Oklahoma City Knights, a homeschool basketball team, Ed wondered if there shouldn’t be more opportunities for his children and others like them.

A group of homeschool parents pushed for a change to the state laws, but the legislation didn’t make it very far.

The buzz has been minimal since.

"It’s never been a fight,” said Danny Rennels, executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. "We’ve never had any fight with anyone over it.”

To participate in athletics at an OSSAA school, youngsters must be full-time students as defined by the Oklahoma State Department of Education and meet the attendance rule of 90 percent.

That essentially rules out homeschoolers.

And Rennels has little reason to believe that rule will change any time soon.

"I obviously can’t speak for all our administrators,” he said. "The feeling that I have gotten — the preference is for the kids to participate who actually attend their schools.”

To play or not to play?
Austin Brown made the varsity football team as a freshman, was elected treasurer of his class and earned straight As his first semester in high school.

His mother wishes things were different.

"Although our son is doing well in public school, we desire to homeschool him,” Gina Brown said. "We miss our quality time together as a family.”

Gina and Vann Brown homeschooled their oldest son for years. When he started kindergarten and struggled, they decided to give home education a try.


by Jenni Carlson
Columnist
Jenni Carlson, a sports columnist at The Oklahoman since 1999, came by her love of sports honestly. She grew up in a sports-loving family in Kansas. Her dad coached baseball and did color commentary on the radio for the high school football...
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Homeschool High Alumni
Here’s a look at some former homeschoolers who’ve made it big in athletics:

→Jason Taylor, Washington Redskins: The All-Pro defensive end was homeschooled in Pittsburgh but played football for Woodland Hills High School. That helped him land a football scholarship at the University of Akron before being selected in the third round of the 1997 NFL Draft.

→Tim Tebow, Florida Gators: Because of the Craig Dickinson Act, Tebow was allowed by Florida law to play football for Nease High School in Jacksonville. That led to a scholarship at Florida, a national title in 2006 and a Heisman Trophy in 2007.

→Katie Hoff, Olympic swimmer: With the exception of fourth grade, she was homeschooled throughout her life. That flexible schedule came in handy with high-level competitive swimming, which climaxed with a silver and two bronzes last summer in Beijing.

→Pat Venditte, Staten Island Yankees: Homeschooled in Omaha, Neb., the pitcher walked on at Creighton and became a YouTube sensation. Being ambidextrous, he’s able to pitch with either hand. He was drafted last year by the Yankees and had 23 saves in the minors.

BY JENNI CARLSON



BCS national championship

→Who: No. 1 OU vs. No. 2 Florida

→When: 6:30 p.m. Thursday

→Where: Dolphin Stadium, Miami

→TV: FOX (Cox 12)

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