- The Washington Times - Sunday, April 30, 2006

Home-schooling parents in Frederick County, learning that their children could not play on high school football teams, decided not to punt. They formed their own squad instead.

“My son and daughter have not been able to play football or cheer because the [community] programs end at eighth grade,” says Terry Delph, who with fellow home-school mother Nancy Werking co-founded the Central Maryland Christian Crusaders.

“This team is really, really needed,” she says.

The Crusaders now are the second football team in Maryland made up entirely of home-school and private-school students. The Maryland Christian Saints first took the field last year in Harford County, north of Baltimore.

“You can be a Christian, hit really hard on the football field and still glorify God,” Mrs. Delph says.

The Crusaders and their cheerleader squad for girls yesterday held their second informal practice at St. Stephen’s Reformed Episcopal Church in Eldersburg, Md. Official practices are set to begin July 31.

The football team currently includes 28 boys, while nine girls have signed up as cheerleaders.

Mrs.Delph’s son, Bobby, 16, hopes to play defense for the Crusaders.

“I think that we have a really good team and a really good program,” he says. “I am excited.”

Bobby went to public school until eighth grade, when Mrs. Delph became concerned that he was falling behind. She pulled him out and began home-schooling him.

Her daughter, Megan, 14, cheered for nine years for the community youth-football team. Now she helps her mom teach cheers to the other girls.

“I think it will be a great opportunity,” Megan says. “It will be a lot of fun.”

Many of the children already know each other from a home-school support group, and Mrs. Delph and Mrs. Werking’s sons already were friends.

David Arenz, one of the Saints’ coaches, said he anticipates more football teams in Maryland being started by home-schooling families.

“As more parents see this as something that is [possible], more teams will show up,” he says.

The two Maryland home-school teams will play each other in a couple of scrimmages at the beginning of the season, then in two regular-season games.

The Crusaders have nine games scheduled. They and the Saints cannot play against public schools, so their games will be against other private-school or home-school teams. The Saints have traveled as far away as Philadelphia to play, organizers say.

Both teams are overseen by the Fellowship of Christian Athletes, which helps with fundraising and provides guidance and insurance. The nonprofit, interdenominational ministry is one of the nation’s largest Christian sports organizations.

The ministry was founded in 1954 to challenge athletes and coaches from the professional ranks down to the youth leagues to use athletics to exemplify the life of Jesus. Among those in its Hall of Champions are PGA golfer Larry Nelson and Roger Staubach, the Heisman Trophy winner and former Dallas Cowboys quarterback.

The Crusaders’ parents and players have raised nearly $30,000 for uniforms, tackling dummies and, of course, footballs. Football is an expensive sport, Mrs. Delph points out, especially without state funding.

Mrs. Delph says she does not expect home-schooled children in Maryland ever will be allowed to play on public school teams. “And if it does happen, it won’t be in my kids’ time,” she says.

Fifteen states require public schools to allow home-schoolers access to classes or sports, according to the Home School Legal Defense Association in Purcellville, Va. Virginia and the District also are also not among them.

The legal group argues that since home-schooling families pay taxes that are used for public education, they should not be excluded from public sports programs.

Home-schooling was not recognized as legal by most states until the early 1990s. Today, it is legal in some form in every state.

The Crusaders’ head coach, the Rev. Eric Jorgensen, is a home-schooling father with five sons. His 10th-grade son, David, is on the team.

Mr. Jorgensen worked for three years to get a bill through the state legislature that would allow students not attending public schoolsto play on public school teams — only to see the bill fail each time.

“We eventually gave up because our kids were getting older,” Mr. Jorgensen says.

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