Gross serious about sports ban

Friday, January 28, 2005 | 12:00 a.m. CST; updated 11:37 p.m. CDT, Thursday, July 17, 2008

While Columbians are characterizing it as a political joke, State Sen. Chuck Gross, R-St. Charles County, meant business when he filed a bill last week to prohibit high school sports events in Columbia.

“It falls in my category of a silly bill,” said Sen. Chuck Graham, D-Columbia. “I don’t see any chance it will become law.”

Gross, however, disagreed.

“I don’t file a bill unless I wish it to be passed,” Gross said. “And I don’t believe he would think it’s silly when it gets passed.”

Gross’ bill would prohibit any public school receiving state money from participating in sports events held in a city tolerant of marijuana. Gross is targeting Columbia because it passed two initiatives in November easing up on prosecution of misdemeanor possession of marijuana cases and on those whose doctors recommend they use the drug. Columbia is the only city in the state that meets the bill’s standard.

The bill would ban any school athletic events in Columbia, which means it would apply not only to teams coming from out of town but also to contests between Hickman and Rock Bridge high schools. Gross, however, said his message is not intended for school kids.

“Columbia voters delivered the message that they don’t think marijuana use is as objectionable as in other cities,” said Gross. “It’s a bad thing.”

Gross said he doesn’t believe parents are willing to send their kids to play tournaments in a city that imposes lesser penalties for marijuana use.

Columbia officials have said the loss of statewide high school sports tournaments would be a blow to the local economy.

The city hosts seven state championships each year that bring millions of dollars to the city. The state basketball tournament alone brings more than $3 million a year. In total, high school activities generate $5 million in annual revenue, said Lorah Steiner, executive director of the Columbia Convention and Visitors Bureau.

“Columbia ranked third or fourth in the state market,” said Steiner. “We are very competitive.”

Gross, however, said that if Columbians are worried, they can rescind the initiatives. “Businessmen should go back to the voters and say ‘Hey, we made a mistake.’ ”

Gross said the bill is not a hidden attempt to lure tournaments and tourists to his home town of St. Charles, which is preparing to open a $35 million convention center.

“Every city would vie for the tourists,” he said. “I certainly wish they would come to my home city if the convention center can host the tournaments.”

The 144,000-square-foot St. Charles center will open in April. Market manager Justin Markle said more than 30 events have been scheduled this year. None are school sports activities.

“It has lots of floor spaces,” said Gross, “but I don’t think it’s for sports.”

Gross, 56, is a board member for Drug Abuse Resistance Education in St. Charles and a member of the Missouri Tourism Commission.

Though Gross said he didn’t aim at school athletes, the bill would inconvenience them.

Rick Kindhart, spokesman for the Missouri State High School Activities Association, said the group’s greatest concern is that local students would be unable to have events in their home city.

Local educators, however, don’t seem worried. Hickman Assistant Principal Doug Mirts said he would like to have the games in Columbia, but “we are always competitive. We are gonna go wherever we have to to compete.”

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