The topic of this post may be foreign to some of you, but to others it will hit right at home. Allowing non-school athletes to participate on your school team is an issue that many programs face. However, this is a topic that athletic directors need to consider as situations change.
Personally, I was dead set against this idea at my first coaching job. I felt that if two schools play each other then it should be the students from those two schools competing.
Then, I took my current job. I arrived to find that our varsity girls basketball team were state runner up the previous year. Oh, and they also had three home schoolers on the team.I also found out the boys basketball team that I inherited had two home schoolers.
In our fledgling athletic department, home schoolers were necessary to field teams in order for our school kids to play. My stance on home school athletes gradually changed.
Having been on both sides of the fence, hopefully we can provide some insight on this topic.
What are your league rules concerning home school athletes?
There really is no reason for someone enrolled at one school to compete at another school unless there is some sort of hardship situation. Most leagues that cater to small schools, whether Christian, private, or charter, allow home schoolers to participate on school teams.
Many of these leagues will put a percentage on the situation with clauses like “a team’s roster may be made up of no more that 25% of home school students.”
Another requirement of many leagues that allow home school athletes is that the athletes be under the academic guidance of the school that they play for. This means that the home schoolers submit grade reports to the athletic department. Academic supervision can be very tricky area since the curriculum of most home school families is accelerated, decelerated, or very loosely defined. Academic responsibility of athletes outside your school can often be a headache.
It’s also important to be aware of what some people consider home schooling is not actually “home schooling.” Be sure that your home school athletes are not merely attending a university model (three days a week) school or going to some sort of home school co-op. Involvement in these organizations may violate your league’s rules regarding home schoolers.
How will allowing home schoolers to participate enhance your program?
If bringing home schoolers into your program is league approved and totally above board, then you need to decide if this will help your athletic program grow.
Our goal is to eventually have the home schoolers enroll in our school. However, experience with home school families has proven that most are aware of their educational opportunities and choose to home school anyway. So eventual enrollment may be a pipe dream. It happens occasionally, but not often.
The main reason for home school participation in Christian school sports is in order to help field a competitive team.
Perhaps a school has six middle school boys wanting to play basketball. However, only two of them have previous basketball experience. That’s not a great plan. That group is in for a tough season. However, adding one or two home schoolers with playing experience can make the venture possible and enjoyable for all involved.
After you check your league rules regarding home schoolers and you have determined your school’s stance on the issue, here are your next steps to consider.
How will allowing home schoolers to participate harm your program?
This is a very important questions especially since the topic can be very polarizing and controversial. Allowing people from outside the school to be a part of the program can have negative effects.
First, families of home schoolers may not be totally behind the overall vision of your school and athletic department. You need to make sure that they understand the rules, principles, and philosophies by which your school operates. They need to be willing to allow their kids to be under the same rules even though they have a certain autonomy as home schoolers.
Secondly, how will parents of enrolled students respond when home schoolers are getting playing time over their children. This can be a major pressure point. The best course of action is to make sure that all school families approve of non-school athletes participating on school teams.
Finally, you need to consider the reputation of your athletic department in the community. Do you want to be perceived as a school that can’t field its own teams without outside help? If not, then you need to consider how you control the press and publicity of the home school situation.
Additionally, it can be difficult to mesh personalities that spend an entire day together (school kids) with athletes that show up for a couple hours each day (home schoolers).
At what point does your program need to enlist the help of home schoolers?
If you can field an entire team with athletes that are enrolled in your school, then you need to do just that. Bringing in outside athletes (which, let’s face it, are probaly “ringers” at this point) is unnecessary.
Unfortunately, many schools use the home schooler option as an opportunity to go after stud athletes at the expense of their own athletes.
This rudimentary version of free agency unfortunately exists in small school sports. You should not use home schoolers unless they are a necessity to keep a full, competitive team.
What policies should you put in place to protect your athletic department?
First, your home schoolers must provide the same amount of information as your school athletes. Grade reports, inusrance information, and sports physicals must be gathered.
Secondly, if your school charges an athletic fee, then you should charge your home schoolers a bit more. What is the benefit of enrolling in your school if you can participate in extra-curriculars for the same price?
Third, at some point, once your program has a sturdy base, you need to develop an exit strategy. If your school is growing, then you need to decide when you’re going to discontinue the use of non-school athletes.
For example, our school is showing good signs of growth. Therefore, we made an announcement that we would no longer accept home schoolers after the 2013-2014 school year for athletic participation. However, any home schooler in our program at that time will be grandfathered in until they graduate.
This keeps you from shutting out people that have helped you grow your program, but it also gives you a definite point at which your program will be able to stand on its own two feet.
Hopefully, these questions have helped you as you deliberate the issue of non-school athletes. Personally, I am indebted to and extremely grateful for the home school families that the Lord has led to our program. We offer a variety of sports that would not be possible if it were not for them. They have helped our program make great strides towards consistency.
Do you allow non-school athletes to participate in your programs? Why or why not?