Students in foster care in Tennessee are now exempt from a rule that bars kids who transfer to a new school district from playing sports for their new high school until they’ve been in the new district for a year.
The Tennessee Secondary School Athletic Association’s one-year waiting period for eligibility to play is intended to discourage coaches from powerhouse sports programs from recruiting promising players from other schools outside the district.
State Rep. Torrey Harris, a Democrat from Memphis, sponsored the bill to adjust the rule after learning about an unnamed foster youth who was “absolutely devastated” to be told after just a few practices with his new high school’s football team that he was not yet eligible to play.
According to a report by national education news outlet Chalkbeat, Harris said the youth had only recently joined a new foster family in Tipton County and was excited about bonding with his teammates. Strong school engagement is widely recognized as a factor in overall student success.
“An opportunity to do something that he loves, to continue to gain social skills — his motivation to want to be involved — and to get denied playing a sport because of the length of time he had been placed — at no fault of his own,” Harris told Chalkbeat, “you can only imagine how damaging this could be.”
Tennessee Gov. Bill Lee (R) signed the bill in May, waiving the rule for all students in foster care.
The state sports association supported waiving the one-year rule for foster youth, said its executive director, Bernard Childress, adding that they were never contemplated as targets of the waiting period.