By Mary Chambers
Our favorite sports movies often arise out of stories of hardship: the athletes who were told they couldn’t or shouldn’t play but proved everyone wrong. All of these stories have two things in common: stellar athletes with an incredible amount of dedication and people who, at some point, saw the injustice of what was going on and did something to help them out. Someone let them play.
From the big screen we remember the African-Americans brought onto the Titans team, who were looked down upon at first. We think of Rudy Ruettiger, seen as someone who could do nothing for Notre Dame’s Fighting Irish. Remember Jackie Robinson, the first African-American to play Major League Baseball? Without him blazing the trail, Georgia would never have had Hank Aaron.
Today, everyone knows the story of Tim Tebow, the Heisman winner turned NFL star. He overcame the challenge of playing football as a homeschooler in Florida by playing at a local public school.
Then there’s Chip Chambers, a 15-year-old homeschooled student in Athens with the potential to be a great basketball player. But Chip may never have his “Rudy” moment: The regressive laws of Georgia prohibit homeschooled and charter school students from participating in the extracurricular activities of local public schools.
Chip has written letters to the governor, talked to state representatives and spent hours every day perfecting his free throws and lay-ups. Self-motivated, driven and disciplined to the core, Chip deserves to be able to try out and play the sports (that his parents pay for with their tax dollars) along with his friends.
“It’s frustrating to look across the border and see athletes like Tim Tebow getting the education and benefits of homeschooling while also getting the access to sports equipment and training public schoolers get,” Chip notes. Chip and students like him must choose between the academic options their parents have deemed best for them and athletics, depriving them of all of the benefits of sports.
In 2011, Senate Majority Leader Chip Rogers introduced legislation to “allow public school students in charter schools and virtual schools to participate in extracurricular activities at their resident school,” that is, the public school in their home district. It was a start. Even so, the legislation didn’t make it out of the state House. And it wouldn’t have allowed homeschoolers like Chip to participate.
It’s not just about sports, either. Other extracurricular activities are off limits to these students as well. Opponents of such legislation have but a few weak arguments. For example, the 28 states that allow homeschooled and charter school students to participate in public school sports require that these students play in their own district. This eliminates recruiting. Considering that parents of these students still pay the same public school taxes everyone else does, it makes no sense why these children should not be allowed to participate.
“Competition always brings out the best efforts from both sides,” Chip also observes.
Why discourage schools from having other potentially great athletes on their team who would encourage competition? Isn’t it all supposed to be about the kids? Why allow these children the choice in education then deny them the chance to improve their fitness, increase their work ethic, make new friendships, and participate in the activities that they love most?
It’s when adults take their eyes off what’s best for the students and focus instead on political agendas that children are deprived of not only what they love, but what they need. But who’s going to advocate for Chip?
Chip is dedicated. He’s motivated. He’s disciplined. He’s ready. He deserves the opportunity to try out for these teams. How do I know this? I know because Chip is my brother. I have more respect for my sibling than I thought possible to have for someone 15 years old.
It’s wrong to stand in the way of students like Chip who have what it takes. In the words of the hit sports movie, “Bad News Bears,” “Let them play! Let them play! Let them play!!”
(Mary Chambers is a marketing intern at the Georgia Public Policy Foundation. She attends Berry College in Rome, Georgia, where she is Director of the college Student Enterprise Program that creates and operates small businesses.)