- Associated Press - Friday, September 12, 2014

FORTVILLE, Ind. (AP) - When the Indiana High School Athletic Association changed its rule last year to allow home school athletes to participate on teams at their local public school, Trey Oetjen was intrigued.

His oldest son, Caleb, was home schooled but played on a non-IHSAA affiliated team at Horizon Christian and is a freshman on the basketball team at NAIA Bethel College. With a pair of talented twins, Josiah and Noah, going into their junior year, the elder Oetjen pursued the possibility of taking advantage of the new IHSAA rule at the local public school, Mt. Vernon.

But it wasn’t that simple.

Despite the IHSAA’s rule change, the Mt. Vernon school board has decided not to allow home school athletes to participate.

“I told (Oetjen) that he was welcome to enroll his kids in our school,” Mt. Vernon superintendent Bill Riggs told The Indianapolis Star (http://indy.st/1m01dWk ). “That’s been my position all along and it’s been a pretty staunch position from our school board. We want those who participate on Mt. Vernon teams and in extracurricular activities to be Mt. Vernon students.”

According to the IHSAA rule, a home school student must be enrolled in the host school for at least one class per day to be eligible for athletic participation, as well as meeting all of the regular eligibility standards. Some schools, such as Avon, Carmel and Center Grove, do not accept partially enrolled students and, therefore, do not have any home school students participating in athletics.

Franklin Central and Greenwood are among other local schools that do not allow home school athletes.

The news last year that the IHSAA would allow home school athletes is misleading, Oetjen said, if the local districts choose to say no.

“How can (the IHSAA) really say they allow home school kids to play?” Oetjen said. “There’s no provision if the school doesn’t allow it.”

IHSAA Commissioner Bobby Cox conducted a series of six town hall meetings around the state in 2011 and ‘12 regarding home school athletic participation. The meetings were in response to a bill authored by Timothy Wesco, a Republican from Mishawaka, that passed in the House but died in the Senate. Wesco’s position was that home school parents, as tax-paying citizens, should be allowed to have their children participate with public school teams.

At that time, there were 23 states that allowed home school athletes to participate in some form. But the rule change in Indiana has had limited impact so far. The IHSAA rule states the athlete must have been home schooled the previous three years in order to be eligible, a stipulation meant to limit the participants to students who are truly home schooled.

Schools such as Eastern Hancock, Lawrence North, North Central, Pike, Tri-West, Western Boone and Whiteland allow home school kids but have not had any take advantage.

Hamilton Southeastern and Perry Meridian are among the schools that do have home school athletes. Taylor Marden, a home school sophomore, is going into her second year of participating on the HSE girls swim team. She would not be on a swim team if not for the rule change.

“There aren’t a lot of opportunities for home school swimmers and it’s not really the kind of training I’d be looking for anyway,” Marden said. “If I wasn’t on this team, I might be doing home school track, but probably not swimming.”

In each of her three semesters at HSE, Marden has taken a first-period class at the school. So far she’s taken 3D art, introduction to business and Spanish. She also takes a full day of classes twice a week at a charter school.

Marden said she was a bit overcome at first by the size of HSE, but right away felt at home and part of the swim team. She participated on the junior varsity team last year as a freshman.

“(My teammates) were all really welcoming and thought it was cool that I was doing it,” said Marden, who has been home schooled since first grade. “I’m the kind of person who doesn’t like to be stuck in one spot, so I like the variety. Maybe it’s a little weird just to be at school for one class, but I’m overjoyed that it’s worked out like it has.”

But just nine miles away from HSE, the situation is different.

Oetjen isn’t optimistic that the Mt. Vernon school board will change its mind in time for his twins to be able to suit up for the basketball team. But he is hopeful that opening up a dialogue and speaking to the school board could have an impact down the road.

“I don’t want to sound like I’m criticizing the IHSAA, but I did want to get the attention of the local district,” he said. “Maybe my 9-year-old and 4-year-old will have a chance down the road.”

Riggs asked Oetjen why he doesn’t enroll his children as full-time students at Mt. Vernon.

“We view Mt. Vernon has a great school district,” Oetjen said. “But my wife and I feel like home schooling is something we’ve been called to do. If the IHSAA hadn’t cracked the door, this wouldn’t even be a discussion. But really, the pressure is off the IHSAA because it’s still left up to the local district to decide. If the district says ‘no’ then nothing has really changed.”

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Information from: The Indianapolis Star, http://www.indystar.com

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