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Chicago Sun-Times

Now and then a reasonable point was made during reprehensible grandstanding by state legislators in a hearing this week on how the Illinois State High School Association is run.

Rep. Monique Davis, D-Chicago, called for "fairness at the table," after asking IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman how many minorities were on the staff and the 10-member board.

There are two African-Americans on the board. The private nonprofit with two dozen employees has one African-American on the staff.

Requesting that the IHSA, which oversees the participation of thousands of Illinois high school students in extracurricular activities, make more of an effort to reflect the diversity of its membership is reasonable.

Additionally, a call for more transparency of the organization's sponsorship contracts and finances is understandable since public schools make up the majority of the IHSA's members.

Yet, legislators lost credibility from the outset when Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, threatened in a resolution to transfer the IHSA's duties to the Illinois State Board of Education, a move ISBE isn't in a position to handle, an ISBE representative acknowledged in the hearing.

The notion of a state agency taking over, even if it was just a threat, had to irk educators who had their pensions slashed by the General Assembly last year after it failed for years to make its share of contributions. That the IHSA actually funds its pensions, a point of contention for some legislators where IHSA salaries are concerned, runs contrary to the actions of the General Assembly.

It's no surprise then that the IHSA enjoys the support of most educators from its member schools. That's an important point because those principals and teachers have the power to initiate change if they want to assert it. That seemed to be overlooked as the hearing quickly turned into a sideshow on whether the hearing room was large enough (the hearing was moved to a bigger room and testimony had to be repeated).

Coaches have a voice through advisory committees and principals who have access to Hickman and the board.

The IHSA's championships for the most part run smoothly. Schools that host state tournament rounds get a guaranteed financial return and sometimes a little extra. Apparently, some lawmakers think the schools deserve more.

Some principals might agree, but it would help if they better understood the IHSA's finances. They should come together and ask questions.

Collectively, principals have been apathetic. That's in part how the two-class championships (Class A and Class AA) became diluted by expansion seven years ago that has led to a decline in attendance and revenue at the boys basketball state finals in Peoria.

Or, maybe principals didn't complain because they saw the benefits of expansion: more opportunities for students to compete for state championships.

Hickman received mixed messages at Tuesday's hearing. Lawmakers seemed to suggest his organization should do more to increase revenue while criticizing it for being profitable (they didn't recall a deficit of more than $500,000 Hickman inherited when he took over 12 years ago).

"We're not trying to make a bunch of money," Hickman said by phone. "We're trying to make money to put on events."

At the hearing, Rep. Fred Crespo, D-Hoffman Estates, said the IHSA reminded him of the NCAA because both organizations make money on the athletes.

Remarks like that make it clear that he and other lawmakers know next to nothing about high school sports.

The NCAA aggressively markets colleges and athletes on such a grand scale that the IHSA looks small time in comparison. And that's OK, because high school sports are supposed to be more about participation than money.



Pull Quote: That the IHSA actually funds its pensions runs contrary to the actions of the General Assembly. Fact Box:


Rich Hein


May 23, 2014




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