By Mark Robinson
Heather Clawges has four children. Two of them attend a private school in Greenbrier County. One of the children, a sixth grader, is an avid fan of the game of soccer.
For several years, he has played in a recreational league and also on a travel team. But, this year, his teammates moved on to the local middle school, and he found himself without the competition he has been used to.
His mother, who works in the Sleep Center at Greenbrier Valley Medical Center, took on another job: as an organizer for an effort to allow private school students to play sports in public schools. These laws are commonly referred to as Tim Tebow laws, for the Florida homeschooled boy who became the quarterback of the Florida Gators football team, and won both a national championship and a Heisman Trophy.
“About 31 states out of 50 allow participation,” says Clawges.“There are seven to eight states in the last year that have legislation up for consideration, for a version of the Tim Tebow law. Each state is unique in the wording, but at least 31 allow some form of participation.”
Clawges’s name was on a complaint filed in circuit court last summer, naming the Board of Education and the West Virginia Secondary Schools Activities Commission. The judge in that action made it clear that the law in West Virginia does not allow private school students to participate in public school sports.
Clawges explains, “Since that didn’t work, I thought I’d go to the Legislature. I don’t have much familiarity with the Legislature. I did some research. A similar bill has been put up in the House for the last three years. Delegate Ellington was the main sponsor of the bill, and there were about eight other delegates who agreed to put their names on the bill.From what I can tell, it died in the House for the last three years.
“The bill, the way it stands, needs a little bit of work, so we’re going to talk to the lawmakers to try to get that tweaked a little bit. Because, basically, it is home school wording. The bill makes it hard for a private school to qualify. So, we’ll ask them to broaden it, to make it more doable for the private schools to participate.”
In order to get more traction with legislators, Clawges has posted an online petition which asks lawmakers to pass the legislation.
Clawges stated some of her reasons for pushing the legislation. “My goal is to provide equal participation for all students in sports. I have a background as a pediatrician. I feel like West Virginia falls behind in sports, we fall behind in physical activity, our obesity rates are very high, and I think if we can encourage as many students as possible to participate in sports and athletics, that will only benefit the state.
“Even if you don’t have a student who is home schooled, or privately schooled, it’s good to understand that this is allowing the possibility for all students to play sports.”
Speaking as a mother, Clawges reflects a strong incentive to see this happen. “My 12-year-old really wants to play soccer.”
Clawges commented on the dynamics at play in the issue: “It’s interesting. I am friends with a lot of people in the community who have kids in public school. They are all for it. I don’t know who is against it. I think it’s people who are higher up in government. Most people you poll don’t mind. In Virginia, 70 percent of people are in favor of this legislation, but the governor vetoed it this year, in May 2015.”
The address for the petition is http://www.ipetitions.com/petition/wv-tim-tebow-bill or you can simply Google WV Tim Tebow bill.