The perception of home-schooled students as being isolated or lacking in social skills doesn't jibe with what Teresa Manganello deals with on a daily basis.
"I'll get kids saying that they barely have time for class because they've got so many other things going on," she said.
Manganello is the president of the Tampa Bay HEAT, a Brandon-based nonprofit Christian organization that encourages the social, scholastic and athletic development of homeschooled children. In May 2010, Manganello and vice president Laura Fredrickson co-founded HEAT, one of three home-school groups in the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Elementary and middle school HEAT athletes participate in the Tampa Bay Christian Athletic League, formerly the Brandon Christian Athletic League, which features between 13 and 16 Christian schools.
"One of the reasons we started Tampa Bay HEAT is because we saw that some of our better athletes didn't really have a competitive place to play," Manganello said.
The group was initially conceived for high school students, but quickly expanded to include elementary and middle school-age children.
"When we just had high school athletes, we realized that if we were going to keep this thing going, we couldn't have a seventh-grader who had never touched a volleyball," Manganello said. "So the middle school sports became a feeder for high school, and this whole thing has turned into much more than I ever, ever expected."
Some of the organization's programs along with nonathletic activities such as choir and drama club are offered in the Homeschool Resource Center, at 307 S. Parsons Ave. The Tampa Bay HEAT offers a variety of sports for kids ages 4-17, including volleyball, basketball, tee ball, golf and cross country.
On Nov. 3, Fredrickson, who is also the group's cross-country coach, guided 24 HEAT athletes during the Florida Youth Running Association's Middle School State Cross Country Championship in Lakeland, which attracted 620 superior runners from across the state.
In its relatively short lifespan, the Tampa Bay HEAT has had a few athletes stand out from the pack. Volleyball player Victoria Trueheart finished 17th overall and third among sophomores in the state in hitting percentage. Meanwhile, senior Morgan Parrish, who coaches seventh- and eighth-graders, will become the first HEAT athlete to play collegiate sports when she joins the soccer team at Ashbury University in Kentucky. This year, HEAT added swimming and soccer to its list of high school sports offerings.
About 1.5 million students were home-schooled students in 2007 — nearly twice as many as the 850,000 homeschoolers in 1999, according to the U.S. Department of Education. That's a rapid increase, considering home-schooling didn't become legal in all 50 states until 1993.
Tampa Bay HEAT presently has 280 families as members. Most come from Brandon and Riverview, but some travel from as far as Plant City and Wesley Chapel.
"From what I've seen, home-schooling has grown so much in the area for a bunch of different reasons," Manganello said. "Our goal is to give kids who want to play a great chance to play and grow."
For more on the Tampa Bay HEAT, call (813) 361-5433, email tampabayheat @gmail.com, or visit their website at tampabayheat .org.