E.A. Sports Today

Back in the game

Weaver senior wrestler takes advantage of rule that allows home-schooled athletes to compete for their local public school



Weaver senior Christian Pettus tries to turn Ranburne's Blake Smith during his 132-pound win in last weekend's Gene Taylor Memorial Tournament. (Photos by Daniel Lee)

Weaver senior Christian Pettus tries to turn Ranburne’s Blake Smith during his 132-pound win in last weekend’s Gene Taylor Memorial Tournament. (Photos by Daniel Lee)

By Al Muskewitz
East Alabama Sports Today

WEAVER — Christian Pettus’ school day starts like any other in America. He bounds down the stairs in the morning for breakfast and maybe some light conversation about the expectations of the day. But that’s where the similarity ends.

While the rest of his Weaver wrestling teammates would be heading out their front doors to meet the school bus, Pettus gets up from the kitchen table and heads back to his room for a full day of readin’, writin’ and whatever else the lesson plan calls for that day.

Such is life when you’re home-schooled.

Pettus holds the unique position of being the only varsity athlete in Calhoun County taking advantage of a bylaw implemented this year that allows non-traditional students to compete for their local high school.

There has been an effort to get non-traditional students to participate in high school athletics for several years, but the AHSAA just adopted the so-called Tim Tebow Rule last April. The rule is named after former Heisman Trophy winner Tim Tebow who was homeschooled and played football at Nease High School near Jacksonville, Fla.

Pettus went to Weaver through 10th grade. He chose the home-school route because of its perceived educational benefits, but never gave up his desire to wrestle for the Bearcats. He also believes the approach makes him fresher on the mat every day.

He said the year away as the rule was being debated was “unbelievably difficult,” but was “pretty ecstatic” when the AHSAA came around.

“We thought the law was going to pass last year and that’s why I started (home-schooling) last year or I’d have held out a year,” he said. “I was pretty ecstatic when they did (approve it) because this is my life, man.

“Most people think it was a hobby or something to pass the time after school, but for me, it’s what I do.”

Bearcats wrestling coach Andy Fulmer was pretty happy about it, too. Pettus was a state championship qualifier at 126 as a sophomore, but didn’t get to wrestle in Huntsville because of injury. Going into Tuesday night’s dual matches with Oxford and Cleburne County he is 12-1 in his 132 weight class.

“It’s a big deal for us because it’s another quality wrestler with experience in the lineup,” Fulmer said. “He really enjoys wrestling; you can tell he missed it from last year. It gives us a little more experience and a state qualifier back that helps solidify our lineup from top to bottom.”

The AHSAA office doesn’t have an estimate on the number of home-schooled athletes participating in their sports around the state this year or the impact they’re having on competition.

Pettus and Erin Bean, a seventh-grade volleyball player, also at Weaver, are believed to be the only home-schooled athletes in the county. Local education officials expect more as the rule becomes more accepted and understood.

“I’m glad for them because they get a chance to participate,” Weaver principal Mike Allison said. “We just want to encourage participation and any way we can get kids competing and working and being a part as much as possible I think is a good thing.”

It’s not as if teams are looking for school-age athletes not currently enrolled to enhance their rosters.

To be AHSAA eligibility, the athlete must live in that school’s designated residency zone, and take PE at the school and another elective – in Pettus’ case, English literature – that can be taken over the internet.

He follows the routine of a traditional student, designating time for classwork and has his material graded by the proper authorities. He missed the second day of the Bearcats’ Gene Taylor Memorial Tournament last weekend, in which he was the No. 2 seed at 132, to take the ACT. If he has difficulties with the work, there are support sources he can go to for answers.

“I’ve still got to do everything everybody else does, I just don’t come in in the morning and leave in the afternoon,” he said.

UPDATE: Christian Pettus went 2-0 Tuesday night although the Bearcats lost to Cleburne County (45-33) and Oxford (38-29). He won by a pin and a forfeit.

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