For several years, Bruce Collie and his strapping sons delivered pizzas from their family’s restaurant to the Wimberley High School football team.
After the Friday night lights dimmed, the Texans munched on pies from Brewster’s, a popular hangout in Wimberley, a small Hill Country town about 30 miles southwest of Austin.
Collie, who has 13 children — six boys and seven girls — recognized the irony in those postgame moments. A retired NFL offensive lineman who had won two Super Bowl rings with the San Francisco 49ers, he knew at least a couple of his boys would have fit in nicely with the Texans wearing helmets and shoulder pads.
Blocking that possibility, though, was the fact that Collie’s children, who range in age from 8 to 24, always have been home-schooled, making them ineligible to compete in extracurricular activities at Texas public schools overseen by the University Interscholastic League.
“Sometimes you could feel the friction inside a store or at the restaurant,” Collie said, recalling that neighbors, friends and pizza customers would wonder why his sons weren’t playing football for Wimberley High.
While Bruce and his wife, Holly, have home-schooled all of their children, Bruce said he and Holly have given all of them the option of enrolling in a public school once they turned 13. So far, he said, all have decided to continue learning at home.
This legislative session, though, home-schooling families like the Collies and others across Texas have waited to see if a seismic change might soon alter the landscape of UIL athletics. Senate Bill 640, filed by Sen. Van Taylor, R-Plano, would require public schools to allow the roughly 350,000 home-schooled students in Texas to participate in UIL activities — including sports, academic contests and music competitions — if those students meet the requirements set forth in the legislation.
Under the bill, home-schooled athletes would have to meet the same eligibility requirements imposed on public school students, including residing in the district of the school for which they compete in UIL events and remaining academically eligible under the UIL’s “no-pass, no-play” rule. The bill states that a home-schooled student would have to “demonstrate grade-level academic proficiency” on a nationally recognized test during the first six weeks of a school year. From that point, a home-schooled athlete’s parents would be required to periodically update school officials about the student’s academic standing.
The so-called Tim Tebow bill — recognizing the 2007 Heisman Trophy winner who was home-schooled but was allowed to play for a high school football team in Ponte Vedra, Fla. — gained traction in April after the Texas Senate approved it by a 23-8 vote, but the House version has failed to advance to a vote. As of Friday, it appeared the bill’s supporters needed a Hail Mary worthy of Tebow for the Senate version — referred to the House’s education committee nearly two weeks ago — to reach the House floor before a Tuesday deadline for preliminary approval.
“I am confident that at some point, we will allow home-schooled children to participate in UIL activities that would be a benefit to them and to the schools,” said Rep. James Frank, R-Wichita Falls, the sponsor of a similar House bill. “The children in 34 other states already enjoy access to these activities.”
This is the third straight legislative session during which the Tebow bill has been introduced by Texas lawmakers. If it doesn’t pass once again, it could be reintroduced during the next session in January 2019.
If the measure passes someday and gains the governor’s approval, supporters say, the next Tebow could lead his high school football team to a UIL state championship. And maybe just like Tebow, who benefited from the Florida law passed in 1996, that home-schooler turned public school athlete will one day embark on an NFL career, as Bruce Collie did in 1985.
“Texas children should not be discriminated against and denied the opportunity to participate in group extracurricular activities simply because their parents have made the choice to provide their individual education,” Frank said. “This opportunity is especially important for students who come from families of limited means or who live in rural areas where access to these activities is limited outside of the UIL.”
Even though similar laws allowing home-schoolers to participate in public school sports already exist in 34 states, many public high school coaches in Texas want to sack the Tebow bill for good.
D.W. Rutledge, executive director of the Texas High School Coaches Association, said the group opposes the inclusion of home-schoolers in public school athletics for a variety of reasons. If passed, Rutledge said, the bill “would create an imbalance between academic eligibility in that public school students are assessed by teaching professionals under state curriculum while home school student requirements are largely unregulated.”
Sam Tipton, executive director of the Texas Girls Coaches Association, agrees with Rutledge.
“Home-school students would abide by a less restrictive set of rules to participate in UIL activities,” Tipton said.
Supporters of the bill contend that home-school families pay taxes that support public education, and for that reason, their children also should have access to UIL activities.
Jeremy Newman, director of public policy for the Texas Home School Coalition, has backed the Tebow bill.
“Though it is a person’s right not to participate in UIL, it is not their right to determine if others may participate in a program in which they would willingly participate and for which their tax dollars are paying,” he said.
Bruce Collie said he pays roughly $35,000 a year in property taxes for his restaurant and his family’s 100-acre homestead inside the Wimberley city limits.
Six of Collie’s children have graduated from high school and would not be prospective Wimberley High athletes. His sons Branson, 19, and Cameron, 18, have played for a six-man football team in Bastrop called the Tribe Consolidated Warriors. Branson, a fullback and defensive end, graduated from high school last year. Cameron, a quarterback and middle linebacker, and his younger brothers Hansen, 13, and Dennison, 8, were hoping the Tebow bill would pass so they could one day play football for the Texans.
But Texans head football coach Doug Warren has joined other public school coaches in the area in drawing a line against adding home-schooled athletes.
“Extracurricular activities at public schools are a privilege and not a right,” Warren said. “There are opportunities outside of the UIL for these kids to participate through clubs, leagues and various other outlets.”
Texas was not the only state to kick off a debate this year about the merits of allowing home-schoolers to participate in public school sports.
In February in Virginia, home-schooled athletes lost a chance to play for their local public high schools after Gov. Terry McAuliffe vetoed the bill sent to him by lawmakers for the third straight year. Upon his veto, McAuliffe said students educated at home are not required to meet the same academic criteria as students enrolled in the state’s public schools.
In Texas, public school coaches point out that home-schooled students are not subjected to the no-pass, no-play rule that was signed by then-Gov. Mark White in 1984.
“I’m of the opinion that people should attend the schools they represent in competition,” Vandegrift football coach and athletic coordinator Drew Sanders said. “I also believe eligibility will be hard to check and confirm. If they are passing Algebra II at home, does that equal Algebra II at the (public) high school? I’m not so sure.”
Said Gretchen Peterson, head coach of Liberty Hill’s varsity volleyball team: “In an ideal world, all would be fine, and parents, coaches and student-athletes would honor and follow the same rules as public schools, but I fear that is not the case. If all the parties involved are following the same rules and held to the same standards, then there is no issue. My question is, how will those rules and standards be enforced?”
Westwood tennis coach Travis Dalrymple also has opposed the Tebow bill.
“If you want to home-school your child, that is your right and your choice,” he said. “If you don’t want what the school district has to offer, I have no problem with that, but you don’t get to pick and choose what you want. It’s not a McDonald’s menu where you can choose sports but not algebra, theater but not world history.
“It’s all or nothing.”
Dalrymple noted that one of his team’s top players, senior Jamesson Tankersley, left behind home schooling to have the benefit of playing competitive tennis for a public high school.
Tankersley was home-schooled from kindergarten through the eighth grade. Before he entered the ninth grade, though, he chose to enroll at Westwood.
“I went to public school because Westwood is one of the best schools in the state and because I wanted to play tennis,” said Tankersley, who plans to study finance at the University of Texas at Dallas, where he also might join the men’s tennis team.
“With home schooling, it was nice to be able to go at my own pace through course work and to be able to parcel my own time according to my own needs,” he added. “Unfortunately, I lacked a certain work ethic that I have found through public school. I would say that I have enjoyed public school more than home schooling, but I am glad of the experience because I grew very close to my family.”
Brothers Benjamin and Andrew Ure of Tomball are promising pole vaulters, but they have chosen to follow different educational paths. Benjamin, a sophomore, competes for the track and field team at Tomball High while Andrew, an eighth-grader, has chosen to be home-schooled. Their mother, Alycia, said that “sports was a big motivator” in Benjamin’s decision to enroll at a public school three years ago. She added that Benjamin is “leaning” toward returning to home schooling.
Asked about the differences between home schooling and his classes at Tomball High, Benjamin said, “It would be the ability of the learner to make choices based on their individual needs and wants. For example, I happen to be in all accelerated classes. However, I find history and English very easy and surpass all my peers without any effort compared to the effort they put in.
“On the other hand, algebra and chemistry are more difficult to me, so I would like to be able to learn at my own pace with the intent of actually understanding the subject matter.”
Although Alicia Ure said Andrew would like to join his older brother on Tomball’s track and field team next school year, the lure of competing in UIL-sanctioned sports is not strong enough to make him want to leave behind home schooling.
Westwood’s Tankersley said he would have “no issue” with athletes such as the Ure brothers participating in UIL-sanctioned competitions, adding that tax-paying families should have the right to participate in public school sports.
“As a high school athlete and a very competitive person, I understand why some might argue that home-school students have more time to train, but I want to remind everyone that these are high school sports,” Tankersley said. “We are not playing for money, and the stakes are not that high.”
If the Tebow bill passes someday, the Collie family will have reason to celebrate. Although Wimberley’s Warren opposes the bill, his team might benefit, too, if Hansen and Dennison Collie were to suit up for the Texans in the near future.
“I am not against the Collie boys playing for me at all,” Warren said. “I just want them to have to go through the same requirements, rules and protocol that all of the other athletes in our school will have to go through.”