RICHMOND, Va. - Homeschoolers are invoking the name of Tim Tebow in a new battle being drawn over their right to play sports at public school.
Chris Henderson is your average 13-year-old, spending much of his time studying and doing homework. Like many students his age, Chris dreams of one day putting on a helmet and spending his Friday nights on the gridiron.
"Ever since I was 3 years old my dream was, I just always wanted to play football," he told CBN News.
Long Shot Hopes
But for Chris that dream is a long shot. As a homeschooled student in Virginia he can't even try out for the public school team.
"When you are homeschooled and not allowed to play public school sports, you can't get scouted because they want to see you playing games," he explained. "If I just have the chance to try out, then at least I'll know that I had my chance."
Homeschool families around the country are fighting for the right to play public high school sports.
"Please give our children an opportunity, it's about the students, it's about the kids, about their future," Chris's mother, Sonya Henderson, said.
"Do not penalize them just because their parents or families have decided not to take the option of educating them in the public school system," she added.
The Tebow Effect
So far, 32 states have some sort of policy giving homeschoolers access to public sports. Many of the policies, however, are restrictive and decided at the local school level.
In Virginia, homeschool athletes could soon suit up and play high school sport alongside their peers at public schools. A bill is making its way through the state house that would allow public schools to open their doors to homeschoolers.
Lawmakers call it "The Tebow Law."
"Let me be clear, I'm not looking for a guaranteed roster position. I just want the chance to try out," one young homeschooler recently testified before the Viriginia state House committee considering the bill.
Denver Bronco's quarterback Tim Tebow is the icon for the movement. He was able to suit up in Florida after the state passed a law giving homeschool athletes access to public schools.
Tebow then lead the local high school to a state championship, went on to win the Heisman trophy while at the University of Florida, and is now one of the most talked about quarterbacks in the NFL.
"His example shows how this can work, you can do this successfully, it doesn't tear down other athletics, it doesn't impede other students from being successful," Republican Del. Rob Bell, the bill's sponsor, said.
"All these kids want to do it try out, they live in the community, they work with them at the Food Lion, they are side-by-side at Boy Scouts," Bell said.
"They know this but they can't do this one thing, that that is they aren't even allowed to try out for the football team," he said. "I think that bothers people, I think they think it's unfair."
Many homeschoolers already play organized sports through local athletic groups. But for some of the families, public school athletics are the better option.
"In rural areas, there are few leagues available, and the ones that do require a lot of travel, which isn't practical or affordable for a lot of parents," said Amy Wilson, director for government affairs with the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers.
"They aren't available for all sports. So there may be a soccer league, but if you want to row crew or play football, then that might not be available," she said.
Groups representing Virginia's superintendents and athletic directors are fighting the bill, trying to keep homeschoolers off the field.
"If my football team is so good that you want to come and participate on my football team, what's wrong with my chemistry class, what's wrong with my algrebra class?" Dr. Susan Bechtol, with the Virginia High School League, asked.
"I mean, come, be a part of the public schools and then certainly earn the privilege to participate on our team," she said.
Public Right or Privilege?
Critics point to eligibility, saying it will be nearly impossible to ensure homeschool students are meeting the same attendance and grade requirements as those in the pubic school.
"If I got three kids that show up and want to play football, I've got to see your physical, where do you live, I need to see that you live in our zone, and I need to see your report card," Hollie Godfrey, activities coordinator for First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, Va., said.
"If that report cards doesn't show me, I was in social studies, math, science, english, foreign language, P.E., ... whatever those classes are they are taking, and I earned this grade, and this GPA, I don't think I have any choice but to rule them inelegible," she said.
One rallying cry for home school families appears to be over taxes and their right to participate in public school programs.
"Everybody's finances are pinched right now, localities, too. But families are paying high property taxes, and those support their local public schools, so they do want access to those programs," Wilson said.
"These are public schools, these are schools that belong to the public, it doesn't belong to the VEA, doesn't belong to the principles. It belongs public," Bell said. "Among those public are homeschoolers, and I think that's why all the polls show that this is popular."
Opponents of the bill maintain playing high school sports is a privilege reserved only for those enrolled in the school.
"Just by the nature of an athletic team, you represent our schools, these student aren't even attending our schools, so how can they represent our schools on the playing fields," Bechtol said.
Friday Night Lights
Despite the passionate protest, a Republican majority in the Virgina assembly means "The Tebow Law" stands a good chance of passing.
"This is going to take, step-by-step, state-by-state, the entire country, and I don't think see anyway," Bell said. "Twenty-five years from now that people will look back and say, I don't know what the big problem was."
While the debate rages on, Chris Henderson continues to work out and practice, just in case he gets the chance to fulfill his dream of playing in front of hundreds of screaming fans on friday nights.
"Man that'd be so awesome to be in that spot light," he said. "And I know that if the Lord has blessed me with the ability to play football at halfway decent.... I'd like to take and reach souls for Christ in the world."
--Originally aired on February 16, 2012.