Mike Freeman showed up ready to run for the first day of cross country practice at Douglas High School on Aug. 14. The only problem he discovered, there wasn't a team that would allow him to run.
In what has evolved into a true long distance run for the 15-year-old homeschool Douglas County student and his parents, Lyle Freeman and Ellen Lucas, they have learned there is one more hurdle to clear before becoming an athlete at Douglas High. The news came as a surprise, though, considering the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association (NIAA) adopted a regulation at its June 19 Board of Control meeting in Reno.
"Mike and another kid showed up for the first day of practice last Wednesday. They show up and they're told, 'Nope. It hasn't been approved. You've got to go home,'" Lucas said.
"When we first started this process two years ago, we talked to a lot of people," Lyle Freeman added. "We've been involved for two years and we've been trying to find an avenue as to whom we go to and who do we talk to and how do we get someone to make a decision."
They now must wait for a green light from the school board.
"The involvement of homeschool students in extra curricular and even co-curricular activities or academic classes is a decision that is left up to individual school districts," Douglas Principal Charlie Condron said. "The school makes policy and right now that excludes home schooling from sports. And the only way they can change their policy is to do that through the process of school board meetings, which takes a minimum of two different readings to change policy. So we can't do anything but follow the policy we we're under now. They're the ones who are going to have to make the decision to involve them or not and I anticipate the school board taking action on that in the next few meetings."
Homeschool athletics is not presently listed on the agenda for the board's next meeting, which will be held Tuesday, Sept. 10, at 3:30 p.m. at Kingsbury Middle School.
"We've got a committee together to discuss the next steps we need to take to examine the eligibility and requirements for the program and then we will take those recommendations to the board," said Roy Casey, assistant superintendent for education services.
The topic of homeschool students participating in extracurricular activities is not new to NIAA Executive Director Jerry Hughes. The regulation was approved by the NIAA Board of Control after a motion was made by Ray Mathis, director of alternative services for the Clark County School District, and seconded by Larry McKay, Clark County director of athletics.
"We researched other surrounding states -- Oregon, Arizona, Wyoming and Idaho, especially Idaho -- and put together what we thought would be a fair policy," Hughes said.
Individual school districts have the right to adopt their own policies, he pointed out.
"Districts can always have policies that are more restrictive than ours," Hughes said. "They cannot be less restrictive, but they can be more restrictive."
No applications from homeschool students have been reported in Carson City, Lyon County or Washoe County. Those students will be accepted immediately in Washoe County, according to Director of Student Services Eddie Bonine.
"We are in full compliance with the NIAA policy," Bonine said. "So far, there have been no applications to this office (to participate)."
Carson High Principal Glen Adair said he had not seen any applications and was unsure how the situation would turn out.
"We'll certainly follow the rule and do whatever everybody else is requiring," Adair said. "To be honest, I don't know if it's going to be an issue here. I don't know if it's going to have a great effect on a lot of the counties, but I do believe it will have some effect on larger counties like Washoe and Clark."
There have been no applications in Lyon County, according to Superintendent Nat Lommori, a NIAA Board of Control member.
"I think it's going to be some time for that to get out and for people to understand the regulation," Lommori said. "It's a controversial issue, but it's one many states have lost in courts so the NIAA was tying to be active and get something in place before a policy was dictated to us."
Mike Freeman began his homeschool studies in sixth grade and would presently be classified as a sophomore. He wants to run cross country and track and perhaps compete on the Douglas alpine ski racing team. The decision to go the homeschool route does not reflect criticism of the school district, he wrote as part of an English assignment he takes from a BYU independent study course over the Internet:
"I really enjoy it because it lets me travel the world and really use all of the stuff I am reading and learning about in my studies. I have been to five continents and 18 countries right now, along with our capitol in Washington, D.C. for 10 days. After reading I have seen my literature book by attending Shakespeare plays in Oregon and London; my history being cool by walking through the Forum of Rome and on the Great Wall of China; and my science being fun by rubber rafting to a penguin sanctuary at the tip of Chile.
"Even though I do all these things, I'm still a high school kid who likes competing in sports just like all the other kids do. Two of my best friends for lots of years attend school and are having fun running on the cross country team. We have played together and done sports together since I was little, and we have always liked each other's friendship."
Lyle Freeman and Lucas formerly coached cross country at Douglas and are long-time teachers. They believe the homeschool students will be an asset to the athletic programs at public schools.
"The school district, I think, is in a win-win situation with homeschoolers because not only are we willing to pay the league fee, the student body fee, the uniform fee and so on, it's not really going to cost the school district anything. I don't think there's any coach who wouldn't welcome these kids to their program," Lyle Freeman said.
Would Freeman welcome the homeschool students if he were in a different situation?
"I think everybody here knows my history of coaching. I only coached for one reason and that was to give every kid an opportunity to excel, so I know exactly how Ellen and I would react if we were the coaches. We would welcome anybody into the program who wanted to excel because that's the only reason to coach.
"I can see where there might be a little different issue in a basketball program or a baseball program where a kid comes in from homeschooling and takes a position away from one of the kids that is in the school. You know, maybe that's a different issue. But in individual sports, that's not happening. In cross country, everyone gets to run every meet. Nobody has to try out, nobody has to sit on the bench, everybody has to compete."
Keeping track of the eligibility of homeschool students, in accordance with the NIAA regulation, will not be an easy task.
"You have the three-week grade check, but if they're doing a correspondence course, they may not be able to get a three-week grade check, because the correspondence course is not a daily thing," Lucas said. "You might do all of it in three months, it might be a six-month course and you do it all in the last six weeks, you have a certain time line you have to get this all done, but it's not necessarily a sequential thing."
While Mike Freeman is an established homeschool student, there exists the possibility of a student/athlete who would try to skate around grade checks by dropping out of a regular school and going to a homeschool program. That issue is addressed in the sixth point of the NIAA policy: "A member school student who is academically ineligible and withdraws from school to gain athletic eligibility will be ineligible for the duration of that school year and the following academic year."
Adair is wary of other attempts to get around the system.
"It would have to be a main concern of mine, being in Nevada athletics and the school system for so long and watching the manipulation of the rules over and over and over again," he said. "That's one of the concerns I have. Rules and thoughts on ideas of policies are really only as good as their rewrite which came out of some challenge. Now here's a new one and I just don't know how it's all going to work out."
The regulation even has the potential to bring new students into public schools.
"The way Jerry explained it to the (NIAA) Board, his research showed that when other states opened up, some of those (homeschool) kids came back to school full-time because they liked the relationships they were forming," Lommori said. "School, besides being academics, it's one of the greatest social activities of their lives."
The NIAA policy
Following the guidelines set forth by Nevada Revised Statutes 392.070, homeschool students are eligible for athletics in the public school based on the following criteria:
1. The student must reside with a parent or guardian in the attendance area of the school for which the student will participate.
2. The student must comply with the same rules and requirements that apply to any student's participation in the same activity.
3. The student must achieve a minimum composite score or survey test score within the average or higher than average range as established by the test service utilized on any nationally normed test. This test must be taken annually and must be taken before the student is eligible in any NIAA competition.
4. It shall be the responsibility of the student and/or his parent(s) or legal guardian(s) to make all arrangements to take the required annual test and provide the principal of the school with the results of the test prior to being granted athletic eligibility at the public high school.
5. The parent or supervisor of the home school program must submit a three-week grade check as required by all student athletes. This check will be administered through the public school athletic department.
6. A member school student who is academically ineligible and withdraws from school to gain athletic eligibility will be ineligible for the duration of that school year and the following academic year.
7. Schools will assess a $100 per sport participation fee for each home school student.
8. Home school students will meet all other NIAA requirements regarding citizenship, code of conduct, etc.