Andrew Rollins would like to play college baseball, and the home-schooled freshman and his parents felt his best opportunity would come through the Hixson Wildcats at the high school near his home.
Thanks to a rule put in place by the TSSAA a couple of years ago, home-schooled students can compete with community high school teams as long as they meet academic and eligibility criteria.
"This is the second year the rule has been in place and numbers are definitely higher for participation this year than last, but they are not as high as you might imagine," the TSSAA's Matthew Gillespie said. "Statewide there are more than 20 home-school athletes this year that meet or have met the eligibility requirements and are participating or have already this year."
Rollins, who has eight siblings, wants to follow in the footsteps of four elder brothers who went from home-school athletic teams to play at Covenant, Tennessee Temple or Chattanooga State.
His options, though, were limited. The Chattanooga Patriots, the area's home school program, is struggling with numbers.
"Someone told me I'm the seventh coach in seven years," current Patriots coach Tom Spurr said.
Spurr, who has been credited with developing the Patriots' soccer programs, played baseball for Saint Louis University and hopes to strengthen the Patriots' diamond team. He currently has 12 players.
"Our goal is to get the baseball program close to the soccer program," he said. "Last year we played eight of the local high school teams, including Ooltewah, Soddy-Daisy and Signal Mountain."
Rollins is one of two players who went the high school/TSSAA option, Spurr believes.
"I knew a couple of the [Hixson] players, and when we started workouts in February everybody was really nice," Rollins said. "It was play here or play for the Patriots, and I live in the Hixson community."
It obviously was a family decision.
"The [Patriots] program had floundered for a couple of years and we weren't sure they were going to have a team," said Rollins' mother, Cindy. "We believe in a strong community and we believe in Hixson, so we decided against playing with the Patriots."
Rollins' days aren't that different from his teammates. His academics begin at 7:45 each morning and his studies include English, Latin, mathematics, history and fine arts. He arrives at practice around 2:30.
"He's usually one of the first ones to the field and one of the last ones to leave," Hixson coach Shane Roberson said. "Athletically, he isn't superior but he has the work ethic that will make him a good baseball player before he graduates."
Getting to Hixson, for whom he bats sixth and plays first base, pitcher or outfield, was a process that began in early August.
"We got and have had good feedback from Hixson," Cindy Rollins said. "Coach [Brian] Bray (Hixson's athletic director) has been real good to us, and [wrestling] Coach [Garrick] Hall lives in our neighborhood. We made the decision to try it, and we're very pleased with how it's going."
Contact Ward Gossett at email@example.com or 423-886-4765.