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House hearing on IHSA gets the ball rolling

Tuesday’s inaugural hearing into the activities of the Illinois High School Association, while contentious at times, raised issues and provided some answers. Two additional hearings should help shed more light on the private group’s functions and help alleviate concerns of legislators and the public.

Published: Thursday, May 22, 2014 1:15 a.m. CDT

In case you missed it, something new and different happened in Springfield Tuesday.

Officials from the Illinois High School Association appeared before a committee of the Illinois House of Representatives to answer questions about how the IHSA operates.

Numerous questions were posed to the Bloomington-based IHSA, a private, nonprofit group that regulates high school sports and activities for about 800 schools, according to reports from the Associated Press and MCT News Service.

Among the questions:

Why have no basketball title games been played in Chicago?

Why does the IHSA have only one black employee?

Why did IHSA total salaries rise from $2,541,323 in 2011-12 to $3,076,721 in 2012-13, an increase of 21 percent?

Why have details not been shared about the exclusive contracts the IHSA has with vendors, suppliers, and broadcasters of state tournament games?

Why does the 10-member IHSA board have only two black representatives?

An attorney who represents the Illinois Press Association and Illinois Broadcasters Association called on the IHSA to be made subject to state open meetings and public records laws.

Don Craven made the case for greater transparency because the IHSA oversees sports and other activities at hundreds of public schools and receives money from IHSA-sponsored tournaments.

Although the IHSA releases financial audits and annual reports, Craven said that is not enough. The deliberative process by which policies are made needs to be open. Right now, it isn’t.

Marty Hickman, the IHSA executive director, defended the organization as financially responsible and responsive to the needs of students and schools.

No fees are charged to schools to belong, Hickman said.

Just five or six spectator sports bring in the bulk of tournament ticket sales, he said, but that money covers costs for other non-revenue sports and activities.

Member schools receive 20 percent of the income from events, plus guaranteed payments, he said.

Hickman said the IHSA has a balanced budget and defended its salaries and pension system, noting that the agency switched from a pension fund to a 401(k) plan 6 years ago.

“We’re not trying to make money,” Hickman said. “We’re trying to put on quality interscholastic programs.”

The hearing, which lasted 3 hours, will be followed by two more hearings, one in Chicago and the other downstate, according to state Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, the committee chairwoman.

While the first hearing had some tense exchanges and outbursts from spectators, we believe it was a learning experience for the IHSA, legislators, the media, and the public.

We hope future hearings focus less on acrimony and more on how all sides can work cooperatively to alleviate problems, both actual and perceived.

A commitment by the IHSA to increase its levels of transparency and diversity would be a good start.

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