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'Tebow bill' hits home

Tebow-mania has touched down in the Kentucky General Assembly.

Tim Tebow, the University of Florida quarterback and burgeoning folk hero who was home-schooled, is the inspiration for a bill that would let home-schooled students in Kentucky play public high school sports.

Will Tebow's popularity bring more acceptance to the controversial proposal?

"I'm optimistic," said State Senator Jack Westwood, R-Crescent Springs, who has introduced a bill based on the Florida law that allowed Tebow to play at a Florida public school. If passed, the law could affect 12,875 students who are home-schooled in Kentucky.

Westwood noted that the legislation might meet with some apathy this session from state lawmakers focused on more pressing budget issues. However, he said, "I don't see a downside to it."

Twenty-four states have a law that allows home-schooled students to play on public school athletic teams. But the Kentucky High School Athletic Association, which oversees high school sports in the state, won't let home-schoolers participate on the teams of its member schools.

Brigid DeVries, Commissioner of the KHSAA, said Thursday that she talked with the KHSAA Board of Control about the legislation this week and expects that it will be much discussed in school and athletic circles.

Many public-school proponents think students should not be allowed to participate in sports if they are unwilling to participate in the classroom.

"As a coach, I don't think I would like it," said Rodney Woods, the basketball coach at Wayne County High School. "I don't think you get the full benefit of being on a team when the only time you see your teammates is when you show up for practice."

A fairness issue?

But Robert Roach, principal of The Frankfort Christian Academy, a private Christian school in Frankfort, says families that home-school children aren't treated fairly.

"I don't think it's fair that the parents of home-schooled children pay taxes that support public-school sport teams, but their children can't play," Roach said.

Westwood, meanwhile, said his bill would allow students to play only in the district where they live, a measure he thinks will soothe concerns that the law might lead to illegal recruiting of athletes by high school coaches.

Sam Simpson, the football coach at Lexington's Henry Clay High School, said that some members of his team are former home-schooled students who attend public school now so they can play sports.

Simpson said he's not sure how one aspect of high school athletics would work for home-schoolers: Public high-school athletes' grades are scrutinized weekly.

"I'm not concerned about the integrity of most home schools," Simpson said. "But the concern that I have is whether home-schooled students would have the same accountability, the same academic checks and balances, as the students who are in the classroom," Simpson said.

Tebow in favor

Westwood said constituents asked him to file the bill this summer.

Tebow, a Heisman Trophy winner and quarterback for the national championship team, has spoken in favor of states allowing kids who are home-schooled to play for public-school teams.

A Tim Tebow bill is on its third try in Alabama's legislature .

Tebow's father has said that if Florida law had not allowed home-schoolers to play, the family would not have enrolled Tebow in public school just so that he could play football.

Aside from sports teams, Kentucky law leaves the decision on whether home-schooled kids can participate in extracurricular activities to individual school districts.

Some private Christian schools that aren't members of KHSAA allow home-schooled students to play on their athletic teams.

Frankfort Christian Academy allows home-schooled students to apply to play on their teams after paying a $115 fee. Roach said about 20 home-schoolers play sports each year at the school, which is not a member of the KHSAA.

Mary Ann Kinman, president of Christian Home Educators of the Bluegrass, said if the bill were to pass she would consider allowing her children — who are in high school and middle school — to play on public-school teams.

Currently, her son plays basketball for a home-school team and her daughter plays for a private Christian middle school in Woodford County.

Kinman said the KHSAA ban on home-school students playing for public-school teams affects many families.

"It is not unusual to see families return to public schools because of athletics," Kinman said.