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Parent Asks Access to School Sports

January 18, 2002

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HARRISBURG, Pa. (AP) _ Nestor Hrycenko would love the chance to score for a high school soccer team, but homeschooling has kept the 16-year-old sidelined.

His father has sued, demanding that his son be allowed to play on a local team. Now, he’s pushing state legislators to force the issue.

A bill introduced in the Legislature last month would require the state’s public schools to let homeschoolers join sports teams and other clubs. Fourteen states already have such laws, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va.

``It was hard at first, because I was used to playing every fall, but I had to learn to live with it,″ said Nestor, one of seven homeschooled children in his family.

Testifying before a House Education Committee hearing last week, Peter Hrycenko said families have little recourse if their homeschooled children get turned away from school activities. They can move to a different district, work to unseat school board members or sue, as he did.

``Meanwhile, the child suffers, divorced from his community activity through no fault of his own,″ Hrycenko said.

About 6 percent of the nation’s 850,000 homeschooled children participate in extracurricular activities, according to a study released in August by the Education Department.

While some schools welcome homeschoolers, others, such as Allentown’s Allen High School, where Nestor hopes to play, prohibit children from participating if they don’t attend class.

Hrycenko’s lawsuit asks a county judge to overturn the policy barring homeschoolers from extracurricular activities in the school district.

``I think there’s a tension between the fact that we pay a lot of property taxes for the purpose of education, and homeschoolers don’t really receive anything for their kids from that,″ said Tom Washburne, executive director of the National Center for Home Schooling, a division of the legal defense association.

School officials who oppose homeschoolers’ involvement contend that participation is a privilege, not a right. A New York state appellate court ruled in 1996 that homeschoolers could join intramural teams, but only full-time students could be eligible for interscholastic sports.

``We interpreted the court ruling as finding that interscholastic sports were related to the curriculum, and they are reserved as one of the privileges of attending a public school,″ said Bill Hirschen, spokesman for New York’s Education Department.

But even when schools allow them to play football or join the chess club, homeschooled children can feel like outsiders.

Oregon’s equal access law ensured that Erin West could try out for North Eugene High School’s varsity soccer team in the summer of 2000. Once she made the team, however, fitting in was a challenge because she only saw her teammates at practices and games.

``Overall, it’s been up-and-down, but it has gotten a lot better this year,″ said Erin, 15. ``I’ve been trying to reach out to the other girls. I went to a couple football games this year, and tried to do some of the stuff they did. I feel like they trust me a lot more, and that I’ve earned my position on the team.″

Having a homeschooler on the team for the first time required coach Brandy Wormdahl to make some adjustments, such as calling Erin at home about schedule changes that her teammates learned about at school.

``I think there were some times where she felt like we had forgotten about her, but I wasn’t used to thinking of that extra thing,″ Wormdahl said.

And not all homeschooling families favor government intervention, Washburne said.

``There are a lot of people in the homeschooling community who see a danger in aligning yourself too closely with a state, because you open yourself up to more regulation,″ he said.

Rebecca Jaxon’s three children _ ages 11, 13, and 17 _ have done without interscholastic sports in Illinois, which requires participants to attend public school full-time. Between kung-fu lessons and membership on a private swim team, they have plenty to do, she said.

``My goal was to bring them up to be lifelong, physically fit,″ said Jaxon, who lives near Champaign, Ill. ``I personally didn’t care whether they played team sports or not. There are so many things you can do to stay fit.″

___

On the Net:

Home School Legal Defense Association: http://www.hslda.org

Home Education magazine: http://www.home-ed-magazine.com

National Home Education Network: http://www.nhen.org

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