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February 8, 2014

The Tebow Bill

Our annual debate over the so-called "Tebow Bill" has been in full swing around these parts for a week-plus. The bill has finally made it through committee in the General Assembly, passing on a full GA vote last Thursday. The bill is now in a Senate committee, and will eventually likely be put to a full vote there as well.

This is as close to passage as the Tebow Bill has come since its first proposal in Virginia. About half the states currently have comparable laws, which allow homeschooled children to play high school sports at their local schools.

I'm opposed to the law on several grounds. Let's look at it:

1. Apples to (Home-schooled) Oranges - In order to play high school sports, a fairly long list of criteria must be met. That may vary from jurisdiction to jurisdiction, but, within a given school system, everyone more or less has to abide by the same rules if everything is being run as it should. People know this means taking a certain number of classes or getting a certain GPA to be eligible, but it goes beyond that. Kids at public schools have to follow the same schedule as their teammates, make nice with teachers they may not like, sit through the same boring assemblies, hurry from class to class before the bell rings every day, and so on. I remember when I was in school, if you weren't in over half your classes on gameday, you couldn't play.

I'm not sure if that's still the case, but the point is that these are all the minor facets of high school life for which the homeschooled student has no direct analog. This may seem like a small element, but it isn't. The point of the exercise is that this is a shared experience. Everyone is subject to the same rules and oversight. Allowing homeschooled kids to participate is intuitively unfair to the athletes who have to do all the "little things" that someone going to public school has to do in order to stay eligible. So, in addition to often-voiced concerns about whether the "big" criteria (meaning academics) are comparable, I'm concerned about whether it's fair to ask public school kids to have to comply with all of the day-to-day aspects of high school life, but have a separate group of players who are under no such obligation.

2. Paying Taxes is Not a Golden Ticket - This is the big one. The primary mentality fueling the pro-Tebow-Bill side is, "Hey! These parents pay taxes! Their kids should be able to play sports, too!"

This is a silly line of reasoning.

For one thing, paying taxes isn't some magical membership card that entitles every citizen to every government service under the sun. I think the much-repeated example of demanding to fly a jet for which your taxes paid isn't particularly helpful, but consider a less-outlandish scenario . . .

Most revenue that's eventually used for public education originally comes from property taxes. With that in mind, consider a family who rents an apartment in the district of school X and who pays no property tax. Their son plays high school football for school X. Now consider my situation. I'm a homeowner with a house in the Douglas Freeman district, but I don't have any kids.

So, if you think that a homeschooled kid not being able to play public-school sports is unjust on the grounds that his parents pay taxes, must it not also be unjust that a child whose parents pay no taxes is allowed to play? And what about me? I have no children, but I pay more than the average taxpayer. What do I get for that? Should I be able to show up at the Freeman cafeteria a couple of times a week and demand a free corn dog?

The reason this seems ridiculous is that the argument falls apart under scrutiny. In no other aspect of life is there an expectation that the mere fact of tax payment confers a right for one not only to enjoy a benefit or service the government provides, but to choose precisely how that service will be provided (see #3 below).

Never mind the fact that this line of logic hardly accounts for the reality that many players have parents who pay no net tax, or that some players are wards of the state, or that some taxpayers have no way to access this benefit. Not to mention the fact that, if this argument applies to sports, it should theoretically apply to almost any individual activity at a public school. For example, there's no privately-run equivalent to Key Club that a homeschooled kid could join, right? So, should the Key Club have to permit membership by non-students?

The direct relationship between payment of taxes and a "right" to play high school sports is one that has been crafted from whole cloth for the purposes of getting this bill passed.

3. The Lesson - Nearly as important as the logical failing of the pro-Tebow-Bill argument is this corollary: "Just because we pull our kids out of public schools doesn't mean our kids shouldn't be able to play on public-school sports teams!"

Yes. Yes it does.

That's exactly what it means.

One of the essences of life is the idea of opportunity cost. Choices have consequences. Public schools (rightly) don't want to allow outsiders to play on their sports teams. A parent is perfectly free to have their kids play public school sports, which are open to all, so long as the student lives in the district and is of the correct age.

What they don't get to do is say "We reject public schools as dangerous or heretical or immoral or incompetent or otherwise incapable of educating our child in the way we see fit, so we won't be partaking in that educational path . . . except on Friday nights at 7:00."

And that's a good thing.

Because not only is it perfectly reasonable for teachers and administrators to expect only students who are enrolled at the school and fulfill all requirements to be allowed to participate in sports, but that bargain also teaches a valuable lesson about opportunity cost.

If you want the promotion at work, maybe you can't take a bunch of Fridays off to go play golf. If you want a girl to marry you, maybe you can't ignore her for weeks until you feel like seeing her again. If you want to make your mortgage payment every month, maybe you can't spend thousands of dollars on rare comic books.

Likewise, if public schools are good enough for you to play sports for them, then they're good enough for you to comply with all of their requirements for doing so.

Sports are an extracurricular activity. Note that word. Extracurricular.

You don't accept the curriculum?

You don't get the "extra."


I was a full-time writer and editor at VirginiaPreps for over 15 years. I may be found at The Axis of Ego. Also, please "like" The Axis of Ego on Facebook HERE. You can follow me on Twitter @TheAxisOfEgo, but I still keep my @CRTomGarrett handle active for sports-only news, like passing along scores, etc.



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