Continued from page 3

That was a few weeks ago. Since then, the Patriots have found yet another practice site, a church gym across the Potomac in Maryland. That, too, is undersized, but at least the ceiling is higher.

The Patriots had just lost a competitive game to Calvary Temple, a Sterling, Va., private school with a tiny enrollment but a huge basketball tradition, as evidenced by two overstuffed trophy cases and championship banners on the wall of its brightly lit gym (complete with concession stand). “We fully expected to win the game,” Yost said.

There were more coaches on the Calvary bench than players, each outfitted in natty team jackets. On the Patriots’ bench, a jacketless Kelly Yost had a single assistant.

“Right now, we’re just starting to get it, and the season is about to end,” he said, lamenting the lack of practice time. “We’re teaching every night we practice, but we don’t have the time to physically practice. It always comes back to haunt us.”

Yet the Patriots have exceeded 100 points several times, even though they are relegated to practicing occasionally outdoors on Yost’s backyard court. Steve Oberlander, who founded the program, said home-schoolers in Loudoun County are last in the pecking order after public schools and recreation leagues. “The challenge of gym time is really hard for us,” he said. “The irony is we pay hefty real estate taxes, and we can’t get a time.”

Oberlander has tried to schedule games against public schools in Virginia, but they have balked. Other home-schooled coaches are happy to play against private schools only.

Home-schooled athletes in some states can play for public or private high schools. University of Florida quarterback and Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow was home-schooled but played for Nease High School in Ponte Vedra Beach, Fla. Washington Redskins defensive end Jason Taylor, who is likely headed to the Pro Football Hall of Fame, was home-schooled while playing football and basketball for a public high school in Pennsylvania.

Florida’s law allowing home-schoolers to compete for public schools resulted from the intense, two-year efforts of Brenda Dickinson, whose home-schooled son in Tallahassee, Fla., wanted to play high school sports. She said she has received several messages of thanks from grateful Gators fans. In Alabama, activists are trying to pass what is being called the “Tebow Law.”

More states, however, prohibit home-schooled athletes from competing for public schools. Their parents might pay taxes used for education, but enrollments often determine the distribution of funds, and home-schooled students do not fill seats in the classroom.

“There’s such a degree of animosity between public school people who feel like we’ve rejected them and we’re taking money out of their system, and if we don’t pay the price and go to their schools, our kids shouldn’t have the opportunity to play sports,” said Dickinson, president of the Home Education Foundation.

Still, Tebow and Taylor are exceptions. Most home-schooled athletes would have trouble making a public high school team. But they are happy just for the chance to play, at any level.

“The girls are having a blast,” said Mike Merryman, coach of the Fairfax Firebirds girls team. “It’s a bunch of friends playing together, they’re getting their exercise and learning to work together as a team. Afterward, they all go out to dinner together. It’s a great relation-building opportunity.”