TUPELO, Miss (WCBI) – A new school year means students, parents and teachers are involved in many extra curricular activities. Nearly every weekend, along with football games, cross country meets draw huge crowds. But one group of athletes is crying foul after being told they aren’t welcomed to compete.
On a recent afternoon, the Spartan Cross Country team gathers at the Natchez Trace Visitor Center.
The team is made up of area homeschoolers. Until a week or so ago, many of the athletes were able to take part in public school track meets and competitions. But not anymore.
“They don’t want homeschoolers to compete,” said Danielle Cobb.
The Mississippi High School Activities Association has told home school families that competitions are open only to students who are enrolled full time in a public school.
Parents want an explanation.
“All was going swimmingly and all of a sudden, we do fairly well at a meet and the next thing we are told, you are not welcomed back here, there may be a good reason for that, but we haven’t been told. For all the world it looks like it’s at least arbitary and maybe even discriminatory,” said Steve Crampton, a homeschool parent.
Sixteen year old Danielle Cobb finished first in a recent track meet. And although home schoolers scores aren’t officially counted, Danielle says it gives them opportunities to compete and possibly get noticed by colleges.
“I’m a junior, and I was expecting, I want a scholarship and stuff like that, but now, it’s like, how are people going to see my now, cause I’m not running,” Cobb said.
Rules and guidelines for sporting events are governed by the Mississippi High School Activities Association. Section A of the organization’s Rules and Regulations states “No member school may compete with any non member in any activity governed by the MHSAA, without prior approval of the executive director.”
We spoke with MHSAA Executive Director Don Hinton, who said since home schoolers are not part of public, private or independent schools, his hands are tied.
He told us, “We are all about children, but there has to be guidelines. Students have requirements to be in competitions. If you are not in a member association, or independent association, we do not know if you are fulfilling requirements,” Hinton said during a phone interview from his office in Clinton.
Homeschoolers say they just want to be treated fairly.
“Just because we’re homeschoolers doesn’t mean we should be kicked out of stuff. We are all athletes, we all want to run, we want to compete, so they should make it possible in some way for all of us to compete,” Cobb said.
“I really hope we get to run, it’s fun and it’s a great experience and just to show people that homeschoolers are socialized and we can do things and we can be good at it,” said Mackenzie Barnes, a 10th grade homeschooler.
Homeschoolers are looking at their options . There is talk of launching a social media campaign and lawmakers throughout the area and state are being contacted by homeschool families. Legislation could be introduced that would allow homeschoolers to compete , alongside public school athletes, in track meets and invitationals.