Illinois General Assembly should butt out of high school sports

Staff Writer
Chillicothe Times-Bulletin

The Illinois High School Association successfully runs 35 high school sports and activities and generates about $11 million annually.

The Illinois General Assembly has successfully helped run Illinois’ finances into the ground.

Who should be overseeing whom?

The IHSA is a private, not-for-profit organization that receives no direct tax dollars, but some lawmakers think they need to butt into the IHSA’s business instead of concentrating on the state’s business. How about making the state a more attractive place to do business?

State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, sponsored House Resolution 895, which sought hearings into the IHSA and to look into the feasibility of the IHSA being run by the State Board of Education.

The State Board has plenty to do overseeing the classrooms in Illinois without having to oversee the playing fields.

Local state Reps. John Cabello, R-Machesney Park; Brian Stewart, R-Freeport; and Joe Sosnowski, R-Rockford, voted no. Chuck Jefferson, D-Rockford, voted yes. The measure passed 55-51.

The first hearing was in May. The focus was on how much IHSA officials were getting paid. The IHSA paid nearly $3.1 million in salaries, compensation and benefits during the last school year. A hefty sum, sure, but you need quality people to run an organization that administers programs for 780 member schools.

Besides, those salaries are determined by a 10-member board of directors. The directors are volunteers elected to three-year terms by the IHSA’s member schools. If member schools have a problem with the IHSA, they can elect directors to address those problems. The General Assembly’s meddling undermines the authority of those directors.

A second meeting was scheduled for early July, but was canceled for no given reason just a few days prior. Lawmakers can’t even get their act together to schedule hearings. The meeting may be rescheduled for September and a third meeting is supposed to be in southern Illinois sometime, but a date has not been determined.

Calling them hearings might be a bit generous. During the May session, only IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman testified. No other witnesses were allowed to speak on behalf of the IHSA. No witnesses would have been allowed during today’s session, giving the proceedings more the flavor of an inquisition than a hearing.

The IHSA is a voluntary association. It collects no assessments, doesn’t charge entry fees, and relies on corporate sponsorships, private donations and a share of the ticket fees at tournaments to fund itself. And it puts its audit online.

The IHSA doesn’t fall under the state’s Freedom of Information Act because it is a not-for-profit, but we don’t know what information the agency hasn’t shared that would warrant a FOIA request.

It’s not just about sports. The IHSA runs Scholastic Bowl competitions and a journalism contest for high school newspapers. It even added bass fishing to its tournament schedule.

The IHSA is a leader in sportsmanship. The IHSA, which created the mascot Add A. Tude in 1997 to foster good sportsmanship, promotes the Do What’s Right! Sportsmanship program to encourage positive behavior from players, coaches and fans.

The IHSA is not perfect, no organization that large is, but we respect the work that it does and think the members of the General Assembly who are participating in this witch hunt should end the madness.

—GateHouse News Service