When Cambry Robinson entered the My technical is highonline charter school, she was told she could play soccer at any public school.
Robinson tried out for Copper Hills High School and not only did she make the team, she was told she would be the starting goalie.
“I was very happy to be part of the team. I got all my gear and was at a few practices until they told me I couldn’t play. “Unfortunately, I can’t play because I’m in an online school and I don’t live within Copper Hills,” she said.
Robinson, who is in ninth grade, said she is working toward a science degree while in high school at My Tech. “I don’t want to leave that opportunity by enrolling in a public school to play sports in high school,” she told the House Education Committee on Friday.
However, after years of playing soccer at a high level, she is hungry to play, so her family turned to Rep. Jordan Tesher, South Jordan for help.
“We also learned that if I went to public school, I could choose which school to go to. It disappointed me, but I didn’t have the same opportunities as my friends,” she said.
Teuscher, the sponsor of HB209, seeks to create a “level playing field” for students like Robinson.
HB209 would allow students who are homeschooled or attend online schools, charter schools, or private schools that do not have a Utah high school athletic association to “participate in athletic activities outside of their school like any other student, but it limits that opportunity to involvement before the first recording,” said Teuscher.
This bill creates a process for students attending private schools, home schools, charter schools, and online schools to request participation in extracurricular activities outside of their region.
David Spatafor, who represents the Utah High School Activities Association, which oversees high school sports and fine arts, said the association believes every student should have an equal opportunity to participate.
But when the rules regarding participation in UHSAA events are put into state code, “those are hard and fast rules that we can’t do anything about,” he said.
“I hate to tell anybody to ‘trust us,’ but if these bylaws weren’t on the books, we would find a way to make Cambri play by our policies, and we might want to go back to that,” said he
Some lawmakers have expressed concern about this HB209 would open avenues of abuse and call for caution.
Rep. Kera Birkeland, R-Morgan, who has experience as a high school coach and referee, said eligibility issues for players are common.
“I go to referee football games at a school and they are very upset. … They can name students. They can tell you their address. They live here, but they play down there, and it’s very frustrating for people, so I understand that it’s a difficult space, and that’s why I thank you for being in it,” Birkeland told Teuscher.
Birkeland said she has been homeschooled since second grade and didn’t have the opportunity to play sports in high school.
As a child, she was often told she would be “socially awkward” if she didn’t attend public school, but she was denied the opportunity to participate in programs “that we see as character building and good opportunities for student growth, so I really wish to keep it going,” she said.
Rep. Cathy Hall, R-South Ogden, said she has coached high school tennis for 12 years and questions about eligibility often come up.
“At the end of the day, it’s about getting kids to play sports and just making it the same for everyone, even homeschooled, private school kids. I think it’s great because it allows Kambra to play and other girls like her to play sports, which is so important for kids today,” she said.
But she also called for measures to “relieve problems when people try to break the system”.
Teuscher said he will continue to improve the bill by working with the Utah High School Activities Association to help address situations like Robinson’s, but guard against potential abuse.
The committee voted to support the superseded version HB209sending it to the House of Representatives for further consideration.