Illinois House OKs resolution calling for review of IHSA

News-DemocratApril 7, 2014 

BND

The Illinois House approved a resolution Monday that calls for a review of the body that oversees high school sports and other extracurricular activities -- including whether a state agency should take over its duties.

House members voted 55-51 to conduct the review of the Illinois High School Association.

The resolution calls for the House's Committee on Elementary and Secondary Education to "hold subject matter hearings on the administration and funding of high school sports, the safety of high school athletes, the systems and protocols of the Illinois High School Association, the costs and income associated with the administration of high school sports, and the feasibility of statutorily transferring the duties and functions of the IHSA to the State Board of Education."

The measure's sponsor, Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, said she has various concerns about the operation of the organization, such as its sponsorship contracts. She said the organization has not been cooperative in voluntarily providing information to lawmakers.

Chapa LaVia, a Democrat from Chicago, said there's no transparency in the operation of IHSA. She said if the hearings show that the organization is doing a good job, that's fine.

"If they're doing a great job...now everybody knows, and their questions are settled," she said. "Why would anybody be afraid of a House resolution and hearings? If they (ISHA officials) don't want to come, it's kind of interesting."

Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem, who is a former high school basketball coach and school administrator, urged colleagues to vote against the measure. He said schools are hands-on members of IHSA.

"The oversight of the IHSA is great. It's very transparent," Cavaletto said.

He added that the organization's events bring "considerable dollars to communities," and the IHSA's judgment and integrity have never been questioned.

The organization provided about $2.6 million in revenue to its member schools last year. Cavaletto said the organization's sponsorship deals with corporations help keep down the costs of extracurricular activities.

IHSA officials have said they're baffled by the legislature's involvement. IHSA director Marty Hickman has said the organization's annual audit is posted on the IHSA website, and as a not-for-profit, the group is required to file federal financial reports that are available for public review.

Hickman on Monday said the IHSA "has nothing to hide and will be fully cooperative" with the General Assembly.

"We wish Rep. Chapa LaVia had provided the courtesy of discussing any issues she believes exist within our organization prior to the introduction of this resolution, which has unfairly cast the Association in a negative light," Hickman said. "While we believe the hearings she proposes will be an unnecessary strain on the time and resources of both the General Assembly and the IHSA, we welcome the opportunity to clear up any misconceptions this resolution has created."

Breese Central High School Principal B. Kent Jones, who serves on the IHSA board of directors, said he's surprised the measure passed in the House. He said Chapa Lavia and other lawmakers surely have more pressing issues, such as fixing roads and resolving the states budget problems.

"I've got a whole list of things that she could be doing as a legislator in the state of Illinois," Jones said. "To me, it's just ridiculous."

Belleville School District 201 Superintendent Jeff Dosier said his district has always had a good relationship with IHSA.

"I'm not sure what the purpose of this is," he said. "The IHSA has been good for Belleville East and Belleville West."

Dosier described Hickman as a "person with a great deal of integrity."

"Marty Hickman has been very upfront," Dosier said. "He's been very forthcoming every time I've talked to him."

Granite City Superintendent Jim Greenwald -- who is a former IHSA board member and former president of the Southwestern Conference -- thinks it would be a terrible idea to put IHSA's work under the state board.

"In all of my years as an administrator, I have been very impressed with the operations of IHSA," Greenwald said. "All a person has to do is go to their website to see how comprehensive and complete they are. All the people I've worked with over the years are very professional."

IHSA is supported through its sponsorships and televising the state tournaments, Greenwald said, which means that the member school districts have not had to pay membership fees in years. The system in which a nonprofit organization that is separate from the state organizes interscholastic athletics and non-athletic co-curriculars is the standard structure for most states, Greenwald said; most do not have state oversight for interscholastic competition.

And with the struggles faced by ISBE, Greenwald said he didn't see how the state would be able to take on those responsibilities.

"It would be a big loss and would really affect the schools and their extracurriculars," Greenwald said. "I'm not saying ISBE would not do a good job, but as undermanned as they are... It would be a huge job."

The resolution was supported by two media organizations: the Illinois Broadcasters Association and the Illinois Press Association. The Press Association's president, Dennis DeRossett, has said taxpayers deserve to know more about how the IHSA operates.

"They claim to be exempt from both the Freedom of Information Act and Open Meetings Act, and they argue that they alone should control any revenue that is ultimately derived from taxpayer-funded sporting events," DeRossett said.

The media and the sanctioning bodies for high school sports in some states have clashed over the rights to images and video from sports events.

A spokeswoman for the state board of education has said taking over the ISHA's work would mean the government agency would need more money and employees.

The IHSA was set up in 1900. It is not funded by tax dollars or administered by state government. It has more than 780 member high schools, which pay fees to the organization.

The organization is the sanctioning body for high school activities ranging from bass fishing and football to chess and scholar bowl.

How metro-east lawmakers voted:

* Rep. Dan Beiser, D-Alton: Yes

* Rep. John Cavaletto, R-Salem: No

* Rep. Jerry Costello II, D-Smithton: Yes

* Rep. Jay Hoffman, D-Swansea: Yes

* Rep. Eddie Lee Jackson, D-East St. Louis: Yes

* Rep. Dwight Kay, R-Glen Carbon: No

* Rep. Charlie Meier, R-Okawville: No

News-Democrat reporters Brian Brueggemann (bbrueggemann@bnd.com), Elizabeth Donald (edonald@bnd.com) and Jamie Forsythe (jforsythe1@bnd.com) contributed to this report.

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