It's about home schooling, but it goes to the heart of the underlying issue: schools and sports teams as vital parts of communities and the passion that parents and students feel for them.
As Williams writes, there is a Tennessee angle in the story because home schooling came up last year in the state legislature. There are some 6,000 home-schooled children in Tennessee.
"But according to Bernard Childress, executive director of the Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association, just a few students have been denied spots on their schools’ teams. “It really hasn’t been a big issue,” Childress said. “This is what we were told by some of the states that we surveyed prior to our implementation.”
In 2001, Bartlett High School won the state AAA basketball championship with star player Jonathan Loe, who was home schooled in Mississippi but came to Bartlett for his senior year before going to Ole Miss. Loe attended classes. In Virginia, the focus of Williams' story, the issue is home schoolers who play for a school they do not attend.
Williams has some thought-provoking comments: "And if high school fields and gyms are extensions of the classroom, a home-schooled student has no more right to elbow Johnny off of a team’s roster than he does to kick him out of his seat in history class."
In Memphis, we're talking about merging city and county school systems and the possible establishment of municipal school districts in the suburbs. But the issue is really bigger than that because of the thousands of children who attend private schools, charter schools, or are home schooled. And those numbers are likely to grow as the deregulation of public education picks up steam in Nashville.
I believe there's a case to be made for a merged school system and traditional public schools, but backers must emphasize the benefits of such things as teams, tradition, and marching bands. There is a lot of movement — and some recruiting and cherry picking — between schools as parents, coaches, and motivated students zero in on a particular team, special academic offering, or talent.
For a longer take on the schools merger story from an outside perspective, check this article in the Atlantic Monthly magazine. Thanks to Tom Guleff for sending it over.
Finally, the documentary film "Undefeated" about the 2009 Manassas High School football team, is getting wide release and a lot of good publicity since it was nominated for an Oscar. Here's a review by John Anderson in the Wall Street Journal which, unfortunately, puts the school in "West Memphis, Tennessee." Manassas has come a long way since 2003 when it was barely able to field a team and lost to Mitchell 81-0.