Homeschool players fighting for access to public school teams
The Patriots are a ragtag team of homeschoolers who can't play for public schools
Homeschoolers like QB Stevie Douglas worry colleges won't take them seriously
Some states are fighting for the 'Tim Tebow Bill' to give homeschoolers access
HATTIESBURG, Miss. -- On a rainy Friday afternoon in October, junior quarterback Stevie Douglas emerged from a well-traveled minivan that had begun its journey in Clinton, La. Teammates Ronald Brown, Rennel Hammond, Mike-el Arvie and Jeremy Arvie emerged from a white van bearing the logo of the New Life Tabernacle Church in Opelousas, La. From other vehicles came more players -- 21 in all -- and they toted their duffel bags into one of the leftover FEMA trailers that served as locker rooms for a tiny football stadium in the shadow of a graveyard.
Once inside, several players dipped into their bags and pulled out their helmets. Then they dipped back into their bags and pulled out screwdrivers to repair their helmets. The team doesn't have an equipment manager for the same reason they didn't come to Hattiesburg in a school bus. To use a school bus, the Patriots would have to play for a brick-and-mortar school.
The vast majority of the players are on this team homeschooled. Their official name is the Christian Home Educators Fellowship Patriots, but for their game against Hattiesburg's Alpha Christian Academy, the public address announcer simply called them the Baton Rouge Patriots. It seemed easier than explaining what the Patriots are: a ragtag team assembled from a 60-mile radius around Baton Rouge that pays for its own equipment, uniforms, transportation and officials and rarely practices on Wednesdays to avoid interfering with church services.
While the Patriots love their team and the opportunity to play, many would prefer to play for public school teams. All know the story of former Florida quarterback Tim Tebow, a homeschooler who broke state passing records at Nease High, a public school in Ponta Vedra Beach, Fla. Tebow's tale is especially poignant for quarterback Douglas, a 6-foot-4, 200-pounder with a bazooka hanging from his right shoulder. Douglas, who will enter college in 2011, has caught the eye of college coaches at camps, but he and his family worry no coach will take him seriously because of the level of competition he faces playing small Christian schools and other homeschool teams.
"They're curious about this unusual creature called the homeschooled football player," said Steve Douglas, Stevie's father and the coach of the Patriots. "They aren't sure what to think."
Stevie's recruiting star rose in March when he won the most valuable player award at a National Underclassmen Combine event at Scotlandville High in Baton Rouge. During the camp, Douglas competed against known prospects from public and private schools across Louisiana. Rivals.com published a story about him, and attention from colleges followed. His mailbox filled with letters from a wide range of schools that included UCLA, Memphis and William & Mary.
Last weekend, Stevie attended the U.S. Army All-American Combine, which brought together the best prospects from the class of 2011. With limited reps, Douglas threw well, and he ran his fastest shuttle time. The showing should result in more mail from colleges. Douglas said he regularly receives mail from Arkansas, Georgia, LSU, Notre Dame and Tennessee, among others. Dozens of schools, meanwhile, have received mail from Douglas. He sent packages containing a highlight video and a letter explaining that he plays for a homeschool team. The gist of the letter: It's like Tim Tebow, but different. But since coaches aren't allowed to call juniors, Douglas will have to wait until the summer camp circuit to find out what most thought.
"I sent film to pretty much everybody, so they have a highlight tape," Douglas said. "They know I'm homeschooled, and they know I have a halfway decent highlight film."
Douglas has received enough attention that his name is one of the first that appears when one types "homeschool" and "football" into Google. That is precisely how a crew for the company that produces MTV's True Life documentaries found Douglas, and for the past few months, that crew filmed Douglas for the I Am Homeschooled episode that debuted last weekend.
Even the colleges that didn't have his address managed to find Douglas. One day, the elder Douglas took a call from Clinton High, the public school Stevie would attend if he weren't homeschooled. The voice on the line said the school had received some mail for Stevie. "Where is it from?" asked Steve, who works for a pharmaceutical company. "Notre Dame," the voice said. "OK," Steve replied. "We'll come pick that up."
The Douglases wanted Stevie to play at Clinton High. The Louisiana High School Athletic Association has a bylaw that allows homeschoolers to play in their assigned public school, but only if the principal and the school district consent. Stevie has played for the Patriots since Steve founded them five years ago. But this year, the Douglases asked if Stevie could play for Clinton. On July 17, they received a letter from East Feliciana Parish Superintendent Douglas Beauchamp Jr. denying their request. In his letter, Beauchamp cited a since-dead bill in the Louisiana legislature that essentially was redundant to the LHSAA rule already on the books. But Beauchamp did offer one potential solution.