Month: January 2013

Virginia lawmakers debate eligibility for school sports

The Virginian Pilot

Who should qualify to play school sports – homeschooled students? military children who move? pupils living on base? – was at the center of debate Thursday in the General Assembly.

Brianna Mikeska, a senior at First Colonial High School in Virginia Beach, made the trek to Richmond to testify early about the hurdles she had to overcome when the Virginia High School League, which governs public school sports and some extracurricular activities, told her last fall she would have to sit out.

The reason: The Navy had sent her family to Japan, but after several unhappy months there, her parents allowed her to return to Virginia Beach to finish high school.

The league ruled she would have to wait a year to rejoin the school’s cheerleading squad – or participate in other sports or activities, such as debate – under a policy meant to prevent student-athletes from moving around to shop for the best teams or positions.

Mikeska’s story made headlines and motivated several lawmakers to write letters on her behalf, said Del. Chris Stolle, a Virginia Beach Republican. Still, it took several months before the Virginia High School League found a loophole and reinstated her eligibility, he said.

Stolle’s HB1497 would prohibit public schools from joining an interscholastic governing organization, such as the Virginia High School League, if it doesn’t make students in Mikeska’s situation immediately eligible for sports and activities. The high school league opposed the bill, which advanced to the House Education Committee.

Meanwhile, the Senate Education and Health Committee deferred a proposal from Sen. Steve Martin, a Chesterfield County Republican and committee chairman, to allow students living on military bases to join extracurricular activities at certain public schools.

SB1191 would specifically apply to students who reside in on-base housing that falls in one school district but who attend a public school in a nearby district, which is allowed under law.

Those students can’t play sports under those circumstances, however, which the proposal seeks to remedy.

Homeschooled students also made their pitch Thursday for eligibility to play sports for their local schools, a request under consideration in both houses under so-called “Tim Tebow” legislation. The bills are nicknamed for the NFL quarterback who, as a Florida homeschooler, honed his skills in public school athletics.

Those measures – HB1442, SB792 and SB812 – would ban public schools from joining Virginia High School League-type organizations whose rules restrict homeschooled students from participating in their athletics and related activities.

Supporters of those proposals argued that including homeschoolers is a fairness issue because their families pay taxes that help support public education.

Opponents, including the sports league and the Virginia PTA, disagreed, arguing that “public school sports are for public school kids.”

Incorporating those students would make it difficult to enforce discipline and academic requirements for athletes, said Ken Tilley, executive director of the Virginia High School League. It also would create a double standard that would unfairly disadvantage public school students, opponents said.

The House Students and Early Education Subcommittee OK’d its version. The Senate Education and Health Committee put off taking action.

Similar legislation cleared the House of Delegates for the first time last year before failing on a narrow vote in a Senate committee.