Photo: Kent D. Johnson/AJC
Photo: Kent D. Johnson/AJC

‘Yeah, it would help us’

Each week, five high school coaches will discuss one issue that affects Georgia high school sports.Last week: esports   

At Issue: The issue of home-schooled student-athletes competing in GHSA-sanctioned sports has prompted serious discussion for several years. It could become more debatable in light of the coronavirus pandemic

House Bill 163, known as the “Equal Opportunity for Access in Education Act,” was written by Bruce Thompson (R-White) and passed the Georgia Senate in March 2019. It has not yet come to a vote in the Georgia House. The bill sometimes is called the “Tim Tebow Act,” after the former University of Florida quarterback who was home-schooled and allowed to play for his local high school team. More than 20 states have passed similar bills, and the debate in Georgia is not expected to go away any time soon.  

Proponents of the bill contend that they pay taxes just like everyone else and their children should be able to compete for local high school programs. Critics of the bill say that the parents have made a decision to home-school their children and should accept the consequences of those choices. They contend parents should not get to pick and choose how and when their children participate in sports by claiming owed access because of tax dollars.  

Throw in the COVID-19 pandemic and the equation could change. This begs the question: Will more parents opt for home schooling this fall in an effort to keep their children safe? 

And should home-schooled students be allowed to play for local high school teams? 

The Skinny: Kurt Hitzeman has been at Carrollton for 14 seasons and has coached the Trojans golf program for seven years. Hitzeman also serves as president of the Georgia High School Golf Coaches Association which serves to promote, expand and support high school golf in the state. It provides oversight, education and information to any golf program in the state that needs it. 

Regarding home-schooled students joining his team, Hitzeman is aware that golf is vastly different from football or basketball, and in that light, so is the addition of home-schooled students. The addition of one or two top-tier golfers out of the home-schooled talent pool easily could result in state championships and accolades from tournaments across the nation. 

 It’s also a sport where trouble could arise if a home-schooled kid saved his schoolwork for after dark and spent his days at the driving range dreaming of PGA stardom swirling between each shot. 

Hitzman: “Carrollton is obviously a kind of neat place, an hour from downtown (Atlanta), yet also rural in many ways. Having a large number of high schools, comparatively for a rural county, we’ve got a lot of different pockets of people from different walks of life. And that includes a number of families who home-school their children in this area. There was a senior on our team this year, as well as a sophomore, both starters, who were home-schooled all the way up to eighth and ninth grade, then transferred into Carrollton and enrolled in Carrollton city schools. 

“So the golf team at Carrollton has benefited from two of our top players currently coming from home-schooled (situations). There are other families who have moved into our district from a home-schooled situation, and a lot of them are golfers. So we are talking about the country club sports here — golf, tennis, swimming? Yeah, these sports are probably the ones that you’re really, in a legitimate fashion, looking at benefiting from the passage of that bill. 

“I think for us, personally, I’d have two to three kids from the surrounding area who would want to join our team immediately. They're really good players. And they'd love to play team golf in the environment we provide. But at the same time, the parents have their reasons for wanting home school. 

“We're kind of where we're at with all this. Yeah, it would benefit us. I don't know how many other schools it would benefit. I don't know how many other sports would benefit. But my main concern is basically the way the bill is written. If the bill is written as the student, the home-schooled student, would be able to play for the public school — and you also get into private schools or a private-school team that services their area — then we have to have a provision in there that says, ‘Well, what if they live in this area, but they actually would like to compete for this other school, would the rules be the same?’ My main concern then is establishing a very fair way of knowing that these kids aren’t free agents. 

“Are they allowed to play for a private school? Or are they only allowed to play for public schools? Here it is: We’ve got six or seven high schools in our particular small area. ... well, if the kid is a tennis player, that’s the sport that he plays. Is he just going to say, ‘I’m gonna pick the best tennis school from around this area that I’m going to play for,' or are they locked in to the local public school?”

AT ISSUE: Home-schoolers’ eligibility

• Robin Hines, GHSA executive director
• Niketa Battle, Mays football coach
• Kurt Hitzeman, Carrollton golf coach
• Scott Snyder, Westminster soccer coach
• Jason Carrera, Meadowcreek football coach
» MORE: Previous topics

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