When senior Jamir Kyle and junior Nate Barnard show up for basketball practice every day at North Side High School (Jackson, Tenn.), they are not walking into the gym from classes on campus. They come by car, pulling in the parking lot at 2:30 p.m. when most students are on their way home.
Barnard and Kyle do not attend school at North Side. They are homeschooled by their respective mothers. But they are allowed to play because they live in the North Side school zone.
Around 300 homeschool students participated in state-sanctioned sports last year, according to the TSSAA.
While Barnard and Kyle might not be around their teammates all day, they make the most out of their time at practice to grow team chemistry and have taken on a bigger role on the team.
“You are not around your friends as much, but you get to be closer with your siblings and your mom,” Barnard said about being homeschooled. “You get a different perspective of things because you are not immersed in your own school. The curriculum is more tailored to you. I like the flexibility that homeschooling allows.”
Barnard has started eight games for North Side, averaging 3.4 points and 2.7 rebounds, while Kyle has started three games, averaging 1.5 points and 1.4 rebounds.
Flexibility is also a word that Kyle used when talking about being homeschooled, and that is more important to him as he plays two sports for the Indians — basketball and tennis.
“Since I play tennis, we wake up early at 5 a.m. and practice at 6 (a.m.),” Kyle said. “Then I get home, and it is straight to schoolwork until I come to school for basketball practice at 2:15 (p.m.) After practice, I either go to work or go home and finish up schoolwork before having some time to myself.”
Both players are under the HomeLife Academy umbrella, which works like a school board for homeschooled athletes in the Jackson area.
North Side coach Tony Brown made sure that Barnard and Kyle were accepted as part of the team early in the process as this was also his first time to deal with homeschool students.
“I have had team meetings to make sure that we are all in one accord,” Brown said. “I told the other players that we have to embrace them because they are not at school with the rest of us. They have done a superb job understanding what their role is on this team.”
Kyle started playing organized basketball going into his junior year, so it has been a big learning curve.
“With basketball being new to me, it has has been a challenge because Coach Brown comes in with a certain pace and expects you to know stuff,” Kyle said. “I don’t know a lot, so I have to learn as we go.”
While basketball might be new, the team aspect has been easy for Kyle. He felt welcomed from the start and jelled with the team quickly.
“I thought it would be tough, but I get along with the other players really well,” Kyle said. “I have friends on both the tennis team and the basketball team. They have have been very accepting of me from the beginning.”
And one other thing that Barnard and Kyle have is each other.
“Every homeschool kid has their own perspective on things, whether it be on school or on sports, so he is another voice, another perspective,” Barnard said. “Jamir and I talk a lot, and he is probably my best friend on the team.”
The only time Barnard feels a disconnect from his teammates is when they talk about things that happened during the day, but he can still listen and laugh.
“I am an extrovert and like to talk to people, so when guys are talking about something that happened during school, it is kind of disappointing because I wasn’t there, but I still laugh at the story and the jokes,” Barnard said.
Kyle is the fourth of five children in his house, and homeschooling started in Jackson because his dad was in the military with a chance that the family would move away quickly.
The Barnard family made the decision to homeschool when Nate reached kindergarten, and it continued when his brother Luke started school also. They attend Faith Tutorial on Thursdays for teachers who specialize in math and science, and Nate is also taking dual enrollment courses with Union University.
Barnard said that his brother hopes to also play basketball for North Side in two years and is better than he was in the seventh grade. Kyle’s youngest sister Janiah plays tennis with him at North Side.