"I am a home-schooler trying to play sports at high levels in order to get into college," says Caleb Carter, a 17-year-old soccer player from Charleston, West Virginia. "I'm seeing all these players that I've competed with for years…[chasing] after their dreams, and I'm sitting here frustrated knowing that I can't because the Tim Tebow Bill didn't pass."
In 1996, Florida passed the first law allowing home-schoolers to play on public school teams, and since then, over 31 states have followed suit. These laws are often named after Tim Tebow, the former NFL quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner, who was able to play football on his local school team thanks to the Florida law.
In West Virginia, advocates have been fighting since 2011 for home-schoolers to have access to school sports teams. And they're on the verge of scoring a partial legislative victory.
"The Tim Tebow Act is something that has been on the table and in discussion in West Virginia for almost a decade," says Jamie Buckland, the executive director of Appalachian Classical Academy, a tutorial program for home-schoolers, and a leading proponent of the bill. In 2017, the Tebow Act passed in the state legislature but was vetoed by Gov. Jim Justice.
"I have a son and he's a really good pitcher," says Buckland, "and he missed out on those 11th and 12th-grade years of being able to play any organized sports."
In 2017, Gov. Justice passed a law that effectively allows home-schooled students to play school sports if they take four state-approved online courses per year.
Caleb Carter tried to meet the online course requirement during his freshman year but found the mandate too onerous. "He ended up having to go to the school three to four times per week because they wouldn't allow him to take even quizzes without being proctored by someone at the school closest to us," says Tiffany Carter, Caleb's mother.
"I don't know of any student who has pursued virtual school for more than one year," says Buckland. "[The state] is asking parents to sacrifice a curriculum that they have designed for their child specifically."
On March 2, 2020, the West Virginia state legislature passed a bill reducing the requirement for online classes from four to one. Gov. Jim Justice is expected to sign the bill.
Buckland says that this version of the Tebow Act is a step in the right direction, but that the fight isn't over. "We are settling for it this year," Buckland says, "with the intention of amending it next year."
Produced by Qinling Li and Arthur Nazaryan; Cinematography by Arthur Nazaryan and Qinling Li; edited by Qinling Li; Graphics by Lex Villena.
Photos: 173247005 © Jbcalom - Dreamstime.com
Music: "Daisy" by Chad Crouch, Attribution-NonCommercial 3.0 International License; "Remnants of Effervescence" by Brylie Christopher Oxley, Attribution License; "machinery" by Kai Engel, Attribution-NonCommercial License.