Homeschoolers and Team Sports: Equal Opportunities by Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

Homeschoolers and Team Sports: Equal Opportunities
By Merlisa Lawrence Corbett

When hundreds of high school baseball players descend on Auburndale in late April for the Homeschool World Series Association (HWSA) tournament, they will partake in one of America’s oldest pastimes. Meanwhile, they belong to a relatively new group of high school students — the homeschooled athlete who plays organized team sports.

The tournament runs from April 27 to May 3 at Lake Myrtle Park. Players will represent towns from Indiana, North Carolina, Georgia, Tennessee, Virginia, Oklahoma, Wisconsin, Texas, Mississippi and Missouri.

There will be no teams from Polk County, the host of the tournament since 2010. That’s mainly because in Florida homeschooled children are allowed to play on the public school teams in the districts where they live. That’s not the case for most of the states represented in this tournament.

Florida is among 22 states that grant homeschooled kids permission to play on public school teams. Proponents of allowing homeschooled kids access to public school teams have pushed to pass “Tim Tebow laws” in several states. Such laws were named after the former Florida Gators quarterback who was homeschooled but played for a public high school team.

While state legislators around the country debate whether homeschooled kids should have equal access to public school teams, one thing is certain, all kids benefit from participating in sports.

Research conducted by Michigan State’s Institute for the Study of Youth Sports revealed that participation in sports helps with maturation and self-esteem. According to the Women’s Sports Foundation, girls who participate in sports are less likely to become pregnant as teenagers and less likely to suffer from depression.

Many parents who homeschool their children recognize the value of participation in sports, especially team sports.

Those in states that allow participation on public school teams are grateful. Those who live in states that deny access aren’t sitting around waiting for government approval. These parents have built coalitions and started organizations to create an infrastructure for their homeschooled children to reap the benefits of playing on a team.

The HSWA was started in 2000 in Austin, Texas, by parents who wanted their sons to play organized team sports. That year they got six teams together to play in Nashville.

Chuck Hendricks, President of HSWA, is like so many parents who in supporting their children wind up as coaches, umpires or organizers. Hendricks, who also coached a team, says the tournament bounced around before it settled on Lake Myrtle Park.

“This is the fifth year in Polk County. It will remain in Polk County for the foreseeable future,” says Hendricks. “The facilities at Lake Myrtle Park, we’ve not seen anything like that in any other place in country. It works great for us. We rarely have a new team that comes that doesn’t come back. The number of family members per player, my sense, has gone up a little bit each year.”

Hendricks is aware of attempts to pass Tim Tebow laws in Texas. He’s unsure of how that might impact his league, especially because the majority of the teams come from Texas. Until then, the HSWA, like many homeschool sports associations, provides players with all the camaraderie and spirit that comes with team sports.

Team sports are important. Corporate culture is built upon team concepts. Terms such as team building, teamwork and strategy, are as common in boardrooms as in ballgames.

For the homeschooled athlete, participation in team sports also dispels the misconception that they are somehow isolated from society.

“That’s probably the biggest thing that I get asked,” says Laura Dobratz, whose son and daughter are homeschooled but participate in team sports at Winter Haven High School.  Her daughter, a senior, played volleyball at WHHS and her son plays varsity soccer with WHHS, and also with Winter Haven Kicks, a local travel team. In the spring, he plays soccer on a city-sponsored league.

“It’s kind of funny, my kids do just as much with other kids as kids that go to public school. It’s just that I have a little bit more control over those groups,” says Dobratz. “Sports keeps kids motivated, keeps them focused. It helps them to understand how important their bodies are…When they play on a school team, it gives them a perspective that they don’t get if they were just involved in homeschooling only.”

Team sports also offer children coping and problem solving skills they can’t get from individual sports. These include collaboration and learning how to stifle self-gratification to achieve group goals.

David Lovell is coach of the Dallas Angels, the defending champions of the HSWA. His son, who is homeschooled, plays for his team. He says he’s aware of how team sports provide a vehicle to drive home lessons in life.

“Probably at least half of these players will end up working for someone, in a company, on a team, where people are depending on them to get the job done,” says Lovell. “I tell them sometimes it’s not going to be your day. Sometimes it’s going to be your teammate’s day. You need to celebrate their day, too. That’s part of being on a team… I think it’s great these boys have this opportunity.”