IHSA Defends Itself Before Illinois House Panel
The organization that coordinates Illinois high school sports and activities was under scrutiny Tuesday in Springfield. Lawmakers want the Illinois High School Association to be more transparent ... but the not-for-profit group is pushing back.
While Illinois high schools are not required to become IHSA members, the organization does run the major statewide competitions.
State Representative Ken Dunkin (D-Chicago) says he's worried about the de facto requirement to participate in IHSA, since the private organization makes money off its members. He says since most IHSA members are public high schools, the group's money comes from tax dollars, without much state oversight.
"It's a quasi-public entity that generates over $11 million every year", said Dunkin. "They should have a FOIA (Freedom of Information Act). If they're benefitting from public — the contracts we should see, the relationships, absolutely, what's wrong with that?"
But IHSA executive director Marty Hickman says the organization's current level of transparency aligns with other not-for-profits, known as 501(c)(3)s.
"I don't see there's any reason for IHSA specifically to act differently than any other 501(c)(3)," said Hickman.
Hickman would not say if he's against putting the IHSA under more direct state jurisdiction. But he defended the mission of the Bloomington-based group, and said it basically breaks even.
"Most of our activities don't generate a nickel", said Hickman. "Matter of fact, they lose money. We take revenue from the sports that do and fund scholastic bowl where we don't charge admission. We fund golf where we don't charge admission for boys and girls"
Media lobbying groups like the Illinois Press Association and Illinois Broadcasters Association have long clashed with the I-H-S-A ... over access to high school sporting events. They want to the I-H-S-A to be subject to the Illinois Freedom of Information Act.
Illinois Senator Shane Cultra says the State High School Association needs to be more flexible in allowing student athletes to play football.
A bill sponsored by the Onarga Republican opposes IHSA rules, mandating that a student participate in a minimum of 12 practices before they can play in a game, even if that student was away for military training. The Senator's bill would provide a waiver to those students who recently completed basic training.
Cultra's bill was filed after a senior at Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School, Eddie Nuss, was declared ineligible to play his season opener for that reason. Cultra understands the IHSA's concerns about health risks, but says his measure would have safeguards.
"Let the staff of the school examine the student athlete when they come back," he said. "And if they're in great shape, and they think they're probably able to play without the required number of practices, then they're going to make a recommendation to the school board, who would then give them a waiver for how many practices they missed."
IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman says research shows military training doesn't necessarily mean a student is acclimated to play football - citing 5 students who died in practice in the US around the country last year due to heat-related illness. He says schools boards aren't medically qualified to make such a call.
"There's quite a bit of research that indicates regardless of the condition a kid comes to the football practice, that they need to be acclimated to play football," Hickman said. "That takes time. Our physicians, our trainers, that our sports medicine advisory committee says that takes at least 12 days."
Physicians on the IHSA's sports medicine advisory committee say it takes 12 to 14 days of practice before a student is ready to play football. Hickman expects those doctors to bring testimony to Springfield if the bill is debated this year.
The Illinois High School Association board revised a policy this week regarding high school athletes who sustain head injuries during a game.
IHSA executive Kurt Gibson said students in Illinois have traditionally not been required to seek medical care the day after a head injury. He said according to the new policy, athletes must get care in the days after an incident happens, and they can only take part in a game if given clearance to do so by a licensed health care provider.
"We know so much more about concussions now than we did even a decade ago," Gibson said. "We realize and can see the need to have clear return to play policies in place in order to protect the safety of student athletes."
The policy change follows months of reports about long-term injuries sustained by athletes. The Center for Injury Research and Policy reports that about 20 percent of injuries during high school athletic competitions last year were diagnosed as concussions.
Scott Hamilton, the athletic director at Unity High School in Tolono, said he hopes the guidelines bring to the light the seriousness of sports-related injuries.
"There are so many different degrees of a kid getting hit or a kid falling or a kid bumping his head or two kids running into each other," Tolono said. "I think the important thing that's happening with all this is just awareness.