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Tebow laws let homeschooled kids play sports on public-school teams. But not everyone is a fan

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Reed Young for TIME

Virginia killed a bill that would have let homeschoolers like Nick Faulconer play on public high school teams

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Nick Faulconer's mom Jeanne sounds a different note. When she talks about why she decided to homeschool her three sons, two of whom have already graduated from college, she sounds more like education activist Diane Ravitch than a Bible-thumping zealot or secular hippie. ("Don't get me started on the portrayal of homeschoolers," Faulconer wrote recently on her blog. "I have to go unlock the basement so my child can get some socialization.") Faulconer pulled her kids out of public school after the oldest one finished fourth grade because she thought the teachers were too focused on prepping kids for standardized tests. "This emphasis drove me crazy," she says. "Testing where there was only one right answer seemed oppressive to me."

Her husband works in manufacturing, a career that has forced the family to move from state to state as plants close down. "Homeschooling provided a way I could customize academics," says Faulconer, who stresses that she wants to impart her values to her kids but not at the expense of interaction with the outside world. "Our goal was to be a strong family that could be strong for the community," says Faulconer, whose older sons are Eagle Scouts.

Like most Tebow-law supporters, the Faulconers aren't interested in positioning Nick for a career in professional athletics. They see sports as something fun and challenging, a good way to help build character. There's a more calculated reason too: the Organization of Virginia Homeschoolers, of which Faulconer is an active member, supports the legislation because sports can help kids qualify for college scholarships.

Beyond that, there's the general issue of fairness. "We're not looking for special treatment," says Faulconer. As a taxpayer, she says her son should have the same option to join the local high school team as do students in Virginia who attend online public schools and other alternative high schools.

Gaming the System

Opponents of Tebow Laws have a quick and obvious rejoinder: Faulconer should enroll Nick in a public school. It's a simple response with a complex set of reasons behind it. The most compelling is a desire to maintain common academic-eligibility standards for high school athletes. States set requirements like a minimum number of classes a student must be taking and passing in an effort to make sure schools prioritize academics over athletics.

It's a real concern: around the country, some parents do extraordinary things in the name of high school sports, including holding kids back a grade so they'll be bigger when high school rolls around or moving to another town for a certain coach or more playing time. (Tebow and his mother relocated to an apartment in a county where they liked the high school coach more than the ones near his family's farm.)

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