Chuy Gonzales and Rio Mata have long wondered how much fun it would be to compete for the local high school athletic teams in their area.
Instead, they play six-man football before small crowds, far from the old-school University Interscholastic League, the governing body for public school athletics in the state of Texas.
Ineligible to compete in UIL-sanctioned athletics, Gonzales, Mata and their football teammates at Bastrop Tribe Consolidated play in the Texas Association of Independent Athletic Organizations that was formed in 2013. A dynasty, the Tribe Warriors have won the TAIAO state championship four consecutive years.
Home-schoolers have never been eligible to play for public schools because they choose to be educated at home. For various reasons, UIL coaches and administrators have spoken out against children taught at home joining their teams.
That might soon change.
Recently, a bill introduced by Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, won House approval to allow home-school kids to compete in UIL sports and other extra-curricular activities such as band and debate.
Over the weekend, the Texas Senate approved the bill by a narrow 16-14 margin amid much debate. The bill was sent back to the House with some revisions, including removal of a House-approved provision requiring that coaches be allowed to ask for grade verification from home-school parents.
What would inclusion mean to players for Bastrop Tribe Consolidated?
“It means we would have options,” said Gonzales, who lives in Elgin.
Gonzales said he has to drive 50 miles a day to join his teammates in practice in Bastrop. If home-schoolers are given the opportunity to play under the UIL umbrella, he would compete at nearby Elgin High School, a five-minute ride from his home.
“The gas bill is pretty high,” Gonzales said. “That’s why I have to have a job at my dad’s tire store.”
Mata, who lives in Lockhart, also has a job to make ends meet. A three-sport star, he also competes in basketball and track and field.
“I’ve always wondered what it would be like to play for the local high school,” Mata said. “Our (Tribe) team isn’t very big and we probably don’t get more than a 100 people watch our home games.”
Bastrop Tribe Consolidated football coach Brent Goleman said public schools should be receptive to having home-schoolers join their teams. He noted that many public schools already are losing kids who bypass high school sports to compete in AAU or other club sports
“For kids today to get to the next level, they’ve been playing in private club sports over the last decade, mainly in volleyball and basketball and a lot of women’s sports,” Goleman said.
Tracey Day, who coaches the Austin Royals six-man team for home-schoolers, noted that they pay school taxes but have to pay for their own sports gear. Based in Georgetown, the Royals are represented by kids from all over Central Texas. And there are a few disadvantages they face.
“When you go to a public school, it’s all funded,” said Day, a loan officer for a local mortgage company. “Your uniform. Your letterman jacket. The sport itself. We pay the same exact taxes but as home-schoolers we have to pay for our teachers, our classes, our books. We have to pay for all the sports equipment. The kids are paying $600 to play the game of six-man football.”
There are 35 states that allow home-schoolers to compete in athletics and other extracurricular activities in public schools. The issue grew national attention when former Heisman Trophy winner and NFL quarterback Tim Tebow competed for a high school in Florida that he did not attend.
Joe Martin represents a large group of high school officials and coaches who are against home-schoolers competing for schools they don’t attend. The Texas High School Coaches Association executive director told state lawmakers that home-schoolers are not subject to the same requirements that public school students face.
Even if the governor signs the bill as it’s written, there is one more major hurdle home-schoolers must clear before they play for public schools. Those schools do not have to accept the new students. Local school district officials would have the choice on whether to let home-schooled students to play on their districts’ teams.
It remains to be seen whether school districts will block home-schools from joining their teams. Round Rock school athletic director Dwayne Weirich said Monday that the issue has not been discussed by his district.
A few local football coaches, however, have not endorsed the idea.
Vandegrift coach Drew Sanders: “The number one concern is that we are looking to other states for guidance. That’s one of the reasons the supporters give for passing this bill. Texas does athletics right. Other states should follow what we do. In all the speaking engagements I’ve had in other parts of the country, we are the envy of all other states. We monitor transfers, we have athletic periods and public schools are strong.”
“There are too many gray areas where people can take advantage of the situation and the education standards and expectations are not apple to apple,” said Cedar Park coach Carl Abseck. “If the public school is not the place for your child to be educated in the classroom, the public school athletics arena shouldn’t be available either. Athletics is an extension of the classroom setting and is there to serve our students who are all held to the same standards, go through the same testing, are with us on a daily basis and are held accountable by the public school employees.”
The Royals’ Day knows his athletes might face opposition. When asked whether it’s fair for school districts to bar home-schoolers from competition, he had a quick response: “What would happen if I didn’t pay my taxes?”