Jenni Travers is described by her ASA softball coach as one of the Bayside Blues 16-and-under team's most skilled athletes, a dominant hitter and an excellent defensive first baseman -- yet she will not be playing for her local high school.
She won't be attending it, either.
That's because the 15-year-old -- who would be entering her freshman year this fall -- has been home-schooled since the third grade and will continue to be through her "senior" year.
Still, her parents, Fred and Kyle, had hoped it would be possible for their daughter to be taught at home but play softball for Northern High School near their home in Huntingtown. The couple contacted the assistant superintendent of schools in Calvert County and a representative at the state level this past February; the answer was no.
"They still say it is not possible because she would be dually enrolled," said Kyle Travers, Jenni's mother. Although Jenni and her siblings, Emma, 13, and Carl, 9, are not actually enrolled in a school entity, they are affiliated with Churchville Christian. A representative of the Baltimore-area school reviews their work three times a year.
The rejection came as disappointing news not only to the Travers family, but to Northern Coach Mike Johnson as well. Johnson -- who has built the Patriots' softball program into a perennial powerhouse since taking over in 1993 -- coached Heather Travers, Jenni's cousin and inspiration for starting the sport, for two years at Northern. Heather Travers, who graduated in 1994, was a standout pitcher for the Patriots.
"I know Coach [Johnson] because I'd go up to Northern for open gym and hit," Jenni Travers said. "Plus he came to our local ASA tournament a couple of weeks ago and watched us play a game or two. He said he'd like me to come play for him, but it doesn't look like that's going to happen."
Her ASA coach, Larry Householder, thinks it's very unfortunate that she's not being given the opportunity to play on a high school team.
"I think she'd be a definite contributor," he said.
Though she does not go to school with any of her teammates, Householder said it didn't take long for Travers -- one of the youngest girls on the team -- to fit in.
"I think it was hard on her at first because she didn't know anyone," Householder said, "but now if you saw them all sitting on the bench together after a game you'd never know that she wasn't going to school with most of them."
An Unconventional Path
Jenni said her initial plan was to follow in Heather's footsteps as a pitcher, but that it soon became obvious she did not have the same knack for the position as her cousin, who went on to star at the University of North Carolina. Jenni's father then suggested first base might be more natural for his left-handed daughter.
"I love first base, but I've also been playing outfield some this year," Jenni said. "I just love being out there on the field, the competitiveness. And I like being able to play with a team and make new friends."
A recent slump has dropped her batting average to .240, but Jenni had the second-highest average on the team -- .350 -- prior to the Blues' last tournament.
"She's one of our best," Householder said. "She learns very quickly, works hard and is very skilled."
The question is whether that skill is enough to earn her an athletic scholarship to college -- and if she would even accept a scholarship if it were offered.
"But it's still so far off," she said, "that I haven't thought that much about it."
Travers said she is considering studying makeup artistry in the future, which probably would call for advanced education in a two-year program, such as cosmetology school, rather than a traditional four-year college. The bottom line is that she wants to keep her options open.
"At this point I think if I went to college it would be just to play softball, and I don't know right now if I want to do that," she said.
If Travers decides she does want to pursue a collegiate softball career, it will be a viable option despite the fact that she will have had no experience as a high school ballplayer.
In years past, participation at the high school level was all but mandatory for playing in college. But with the increased popularity of select leagues, like ASA, more and more collegiate coaches are doing their recruiting in the summertime.
Still, Kyle Travers said that if Jenni decides she wants to play softball in college and thinks that enrolling her in a public high school might better her chances of earning a scholarship, she and her husband would consider it.
"We're not against public school," she said, noting that she attended Northern High along with Fred, whose picture hangs on the Northern Athletic Hall of Fame for his play in baseball and football. "It's just that our life is really different now and if she went back to school for softball, it would change everybody's life in the family."
Learning at Home Base
According to Richard Scott, a guidance specialist at the Maryland State Department of Education, there were 13,500 students home-schooled in Maryland during the 1998-99 school year, while 841,671 children attended public school and 175,622 attended private school.
Kyle Travers said the biggest misconception about home-schooled children is that they have problems interacting with other children and, in fact, said her children are "sometimes friendlier than other kids I'm around."
Jenni meets most of her friends through the Southern Maryland Home School Association, which sponsors field trips -- like all-day fun at laser tag venues and frequent roller skating trips -- and group meetings for the children.
Jenni said she doesn't really know what it would be like to go back to school.
"I guess I'd have a lot more in common with the other girls," she said, "but even now we have softball.
"Sometimes I think it would be cool to go to school, to proms and to other stuff like that, but it's not a big deal to me," she said. "I guess if I really wanted to go to a homecoming dance or something I could just get one of the girls on the team to buy me a ticket. It's not something that I think too much about. I'm sure it would be fun to play softball in high school, too, but for now I have ASA."
Kyle Travers said the idea of home schooling started, in part, because she always had wanted to be a teacher.
"When we first started home-schooling the kids," she said, "we had no plans one way or the other as to whether or not it would continue."
She said it would be impossible for her to estimate how many hours she spends instructing her children on a daily basis because the routine is always changing. For example, she does not always have paperwork for the children to do but believes strongly in the value of reading. Requirements for home schooling vary according to each state, but Maryland law requires instruction in math, English, social studies, science, art, music, physical education and health.
Jenni and her siblings will be eligible for a diploma from the Churchville Christian School following what would be their senior year of high school.
"We've always just wanted to do the best we could for our children," Kyle Travers said. "And we'll continue to do that. It's just that home schooling has been good for us. We have a lot of freedom with our time, and as a family, what could be better than that?"
CAPTION: Because she is home-schooled and is officially affiliated with a different school, 15-year-old Jenni Travers can't play for nearby Northern High School in Huntingtown.
CAPTION: Jenni Travers and mother Kyle, left, look over geometry. Jenni's parents wanted their children home-schooled partly because Kyle had wanted to teach.
CAPTION: To improve her chances for a college softball scholarship, Travers still might enroll in public high school. "But it's still so far off," she said, "that I haven't thought that much about it."
CAPTION: Although Travers doesn't go to school with the other girls, she fits in with fellow teammates like Danielle Dinsmore, left, as if she did.