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A Homeschooler Wins the Heisman

By PHS Staff
Printed in Practical Homeschooling #80, 2008.

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Tebow closeup, with team

For years, many homeschoolers have been saying that we pay school taxes and therefore our children should be allowed to participate in school extracurricular activities... including sports.

On December 8, 2007, the best argument yet appeared for homeschoolers' right to play school sports.

Homeschool graduate Tim Tebow won football's fabled Heisman Trophy.

Not only that, but Tebow was the first player in the history of football to win the trophy as a sophomore.

Named after former player and coach John Heisman, the trophy is awarded every year by the Yale Club of New York city to the player deemed most outstanding among the top Division 1 college football teams. It is widely considered the most prestigious award available to an individual college football player.

Florida quarterback Tim Tebow poses with the Heisman Trophy
Florida quarterback Tim Tebow poses with the Heisman Trophy at the Times Square Hard Rock Cafe after the 73rd Heisman Trophy Award Presentation on Saturday, December 8, 2007, in New York, NY.
Tebow's Heisman win was made possible because, in 1996, Florida's state legislature passed a law allowing homeschool students equal access to their local public school sports teams. After a season playing for Trinity Christian Academy in Jacksonville, the Tebows took advantage of the new law. While continuing to homeschool, Tim Tebow joined the football team of Nease High School. There he had the opportunity to play quarterback, leading his team to a state title. Tebow himself earned various honors: the title of Florida's "Mr. Football," named a Parade "All-American," and also "All-State."

Tim Tebow runs with the ball during the Gators 23-10 win against the LSU Tigers
Tim Tebow runs with the ball as a University of Florida quarterback during the Gators 23-10 win against the LSU Tigers on October 7, 2006.
Successfully recruited by his parents' alma mater, the University of Florida, the 6' 3", 225-pound freshman -finished out his first Gator season with the second most rushing yards earned by a Gator, despite not being the starting quarterback. In sophomore year, he was named starting quarterback, and piled up an amazing record for both passing and rushing touchdowns, scoring 51 touchdowns in regular season play. This is more than many teams scored all season. He is also the only player ever to score 20 passing touchdowns and 20 rushing touchdowns in one NCAA football season. Counting Bowl touchdowns, his season total is an amazing 55.

The kid is tough, too. In high school, he finished one game while playing on a jaggedly broken leg. In his most recent college year, though he broke his hand in a November 24 bout against Florida State's Seminoles, he stayed in the game. He later played in the Capitol One Bowl game wearing a cast.

Tim Tebow and Equal Access for Homeschoolers

Now at least one additional state - Alabama, who hates losing to Florida - is considering a "Tim Tebow Bill" that would allow Alabama homeschoolers the same kind of equal access to high school sports teams enjoyed by Floridians. There are rumors more states might get on board. (Hint to interested citizens and legislators - all the info you need for your own bill is online at timtebowbill.com.) The site also has a handy list of "Other States Where Equal Access Is Allowed and Working." This includes an even handier chart showing each such state's National Academic Ranking for their public school system. In case you are wondering if you live in an equal-access state, those states are: AZ, CO, FL, IA, ID, MD, ME, MI, MN, ND, NH, NM, NV, OR, PA, RI, UT, VT, WA, and WY. States with "partial equal access" include IL, MA, SD, TN, and WV. States "currently working to pass Equal Access laws" include the aforementioned AL (House Bill 440, Senate Bill 53) , plus GA (HB 359, SB 85), MS (HB 174), NY (A01495, S00531), SC (SB93), and TX (HB 1569). The page also has a handy link to an HSLDA report on exactly how much participation each state allows.

So, along with his other accomplishments, Tim Tebow has helped open the door to high-school sports (and other extracurricular) participation for a new generation of homeschoolers.

The Tim Tebow Story

If I were writing a fictional screenplay about a football-playing homeschooler whose life was just like Tim Tebow's, Hollywood executives would reject it as being "too unrealistic."

Consider this:

Before Tim Tebow was even born, his parents were advised to abort him. While serving as Christian missionaries in the Philippines, his mother-to-be, Pam, drank contaminated drinking water and became infected with amoebic dysentery. The treatment, which extended into her early pregnancy with Tim, required strong doses of powerful medicine. Her doctors, in their gloomy, all-knowing way, proclaimed the unborn child had been seriously damaged by the medicine and that abortion was the answer. Citing her Christian faith, Pam refused. And thus a future Heisman winner was spared to join his four older siblings.

Three years later, the Tebows returned to the USA and their family farm in Jacksonville. From then until now, they would return each year, with family members and volunteers, to their Philippines-based family ministry, the Bob Tebow Evangelistic Association. Besides evangelism, its principal outreach is an orphanage called "Uncle Dick's Home," after a family friend who helped them start it. All through high school, Tim committed five weeks of each summer to helping with his family's missionary work, including the orphanage. He credits it with helping him keep track of the larger issues in life.

Leadership expert Jeff Myers has said, "If you take your kids on a missions trip once, it changes their perspective. If you take them twice, it changes their life." From the start, Tim Tebow had his parents' example of Christian charity and evangelism before him. He also had the character-building benefit of life on his family's 44-acre farm. Add to this the role model his parents chose for him - Danny Wuerffel, also a Florida Heisman winner, and also the son of a Christian preacher. To say that Tim Tebow was presented with a strong work ethic and a strong teamwork ethic is, if anything, to understate the case.

From an early age, Tebow also showed signs of being a natural leader. According to a Gater County story of December 8, 2007:

Bob and Pam would give him a shovel and a pail and a toy or two and put him in a sand box all alone a few feet away from where they were working.

A few minutes later, they looked up and Tim had a few playmates. A few minutes later, there were even more playmates.

"He didn't even have to say a word," said Pam Tebow... "He just sat there and kids gravitated to him. He never lacked for playmates. They just wanted to do whatever he was doing."

Freshman Tim Tebow on his fourth day of UF summer practice.
Freshman Tim Tebow on his fourth day of UF summer practice. Already they're finding that they can run all they like, but he's hard to catch!
One other thing. Little Timmy hated to lose. When his T-Ball coach told five-year-old Tim and his teammates they were there to have fun and winning didn't matter, Tim did not buy it. He was there. He was focused. He wanted to win.

Tim's parents, Pam and Bob, encouraged their sons' sports abilities. Older brothers Robby and Peter both were linebackers at Trinity Christian Academy, a school that allowed homeschoolers to join the team. Tim also spent a year on Trinity's football team. But the great throwing arm his dad had spotted way back when he was only four years old wasn't being put to its optimum use at Trinity, whose coach preferred a running offense. So Bob started looking for another school with a football team where his youngest son could shine.

He found it at Nease High School in Ponte Vedra. Their new coach, Craig Howard, liked a passing game. But to play there, some changes would have to be made. The Tebow family didn't reside in the Nease school district. The problem was solved by Pam renting an apartment in the district where she stayed with Tim and homeschooled him. That might seem kind of drastic, but the Tebows believe in making whatever sacrifice is necessary to give their children the best possible training... including the best possible sports training, in this case.

im Tebow strikes a prayerful pose after throwing a touchdown pass
As a sophomore quarterback, Tim Tebow strikes a prayerful pose after throwing a touchdown pass during the first half of the Gators' 45-12 win against the Florida State Seminoles on Saturday, November 24, 2007.
Tebow arrived to find a losing team (they had won twice and lost eight times the season before he arrived). This completely turned around by his senior year, when Nease won its division's state championship game against two-time defending champion Armwood High School.

By this time, college recruiters were drooling over Tebow's stats, and ESPN had spent a year following him around for a "Faces in Sports" documentary (Called Tim Tebow: The Chosen One, it highlighted his homeschool and Christian roots.) Although both of Tim's parents were University of Florida alumni, they resolved to allow him to make his own decision.

It came down to a nailbiter between the Gators and Alabama. In the end, Tebow ended up picking the university where he could continue the family tradition, play for Coach Urban Meyer, and follow in his hero Danny Wuerffel's footsteps.

Gator fans rejoiced.

Crimson Tide fans mourned.

And the rest, as they say, is history.

The Future of Homeschool Sports

Homeschoolers everywhere can rejoice that a young man with such a great character is representing us before the eyes of the sports world. Although Tim Tebow isn't the only homeschooler to achieve sports recognition on the national level, he certainly has ramped recognition of homeschoolers as potential star athletes up a few levels. For those who find the "nerdy" image of homeschoolers annoying, this can only be good.

Tebow's success may or may not result in more equal access to sports for homeschooled children. But we aren't totally dependent on public schools even now. In Texas, Georgia, and South Carolina, three states where equal access is currently only a dream, homeschool football leagues have sprung up. The National Christian Homeschool Basketball Championships will be held for the 17th time in March, 2008. And at the elementary level, local support groups everywhere organize teams for all kinds of sports, sometimes under their own auspices and sometimes in cooperation with groups such as the YMCA.

Serious competitors in "solo" sports such as ice skating and martial arts have often found that homeschooling works better than public schooling for such sports. When you have to travel about for competitions, it's easier to carry your "school" with you. No rules bar homeschoolers from competing in those sports in high school.

For team sports, there still is a lot of inconsistency. However, both the NCAA (National Collegiate Athletic Association) and NAIA (National Association of Intercollegiate Athletics) have now formalized their requirements for homeschoolers, making it much easier for homeschool graduates to earn athletic scholarships to college.

Tebow with his coaches and trophy.
Tebow with his coaches and trophy.
So, what will the future hold?

With less than 3 percent of homeschooled students in states with equal access laws taking advantage of those laws to try out for public school teams, there is room for growth in both homeschool-only leagues and public-school sports participation.

A player like Tim Tebow comes along only once a century. But we all can learn a lesson right now from his parents' willingness to put their children first and from their insistence on character and good works. That's what sports for homeschoolers should be all about.

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