Home-school students could play sports outside their boundary

When Cambri Robinson enrolled in My Tech High, an online charter school, she was told she could play soccer in any public school.

Robinson tried out at Copper Hills High School and not only made the team, she was told she’d be the starting goalkeeper.

“I was very excited to be a part of the team. I got all my gear and had been to a few training sessions until they told me I was unable to play. Unfortunately, I cannot play because I do online school and do not live in the Copper Hills boundaries,” she said.

Robinson, who is in ninth grade, said she is working toward her associate degree while in high school at My Tech. “I will not want to leave that opportunity by registering for public school in order to be involved in high school sports,” she told the House Education Committee Friday.

Still, after years of playing competitive soccer at a high level, she yearns to play, so her family turned to Rep. Jordan Teuscher, R-South Jordan, for help.

“We also learned that if I was attending public school, I’d be able to choose what school to attend. I found that frustrating but I did not have the same opportunities as my friends,” she said. 

Teuscher, sponsor of HB209, seeks to “level the playing field” for students like Robinson.

HB209 would enable students who are home-schooled or who attend online schools, charter schools or private schools that do not have Utah High School Activity Association sports “to participate in outside of their boundary school just like any other student could participate but it limits that ability to participate to the first entry,” Teuscher said.

This bill creates a process for students attending private schools, home schools, charter schools and online schools to request participation in extracurricular activities outside of their area.

David Spatafore, representing the Utah High School Activities Association, which oversees high school sports and fine arts activities, said the association believes that every student should have an equal opportunity to participate.

But when regulations regarding participation in UHSAA activities are in state code, “those are the hard and fast rules that we cannot do anything about,” he said.

“I hate to tell anybody to ‘trust us,’ but if these statutes were not on the books, we would have found a way for Cambri to play based on our policies and we may want to go back to that,” he said.

Some lawmakers expressed concerns that HB209 would open avenues of abuse and urged caution.

Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, who has experience as a high school coach and referee, said issues of player eligibility are common.

“I go officiate football games at a certain school and they’re just so upset. … They can name the students. They can tell you their address. They live here but they’re playing down there and it really frustrates people and so I understand it’s a difficult space and so I commend you for being in it,” Birkeland told Teuscher.

Birkeland said she was home-schooled from second grade on and didn’t have the opportunity to play high school sports.

She was frequently told growing up that she would be “socially awkward” if she didn’t attend public school yet she was denied the opportunity to participate in programs “that we have deemed as character building and good opportunities for student growth, so I really would love to see this go forward,” she said.

Rep. Katy Hall, R-South Ogden, said she coached high school tennis for 12 years and eligibility issues are frequently raised.

“In the end, this is about kids playing sports and just making this the same across the board for even home-school kids, private school kids. I think it’s great because it’s letting Cambri play and other girls like her play sports, which is super important with kids today,” she said.

But she also urged steps to “help alleviate problems when people try to subvert the system.”

Teuscher said he will continue to refine the bill, working with the Utah High School Activities Association to help address situations such as Robinson’s yet guard against potential abuses.

The committee voted to support a substituted version of HB209, sending it to the House of Representatives for further consideration.

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