Third hearing on state regulating school sports heats up

Wednesday, October 10, 2007 | 9:17 p.m. CDT; updated 6:27 a.m. CDT, Monday, July 21, 2008

JEFFERSON CITY — Testimony at a House committee hearing grew heated Wednesday about whether the state should regulate the association that monitors junior high and high school sports and activities.

The Missouri State High School Activities Association, headquartered in Columbia, is the governing body for most school activities within the state. The association has been criticized for making controversial eligibility rulings, closing meetings and for making unfair rules about when and where students can compete.

This was the third hearing on the proposed oversight, and some legislators said they were getting frustrated.

Rep. Kevin Wilson, R-Neosho, said the association is funded by member schools, and since schools get money from state taxes, the state has the responsibility to monitor the agency.

“The fact that we’ve been told more than once we have no business doing this quite frankly offends me,” Wilson said.

Those who oppose state oversight, including former Missouri judge Gary Schmidt, said schools already monitor the association’s regulations, so government supervision is unnecessary.

Supporters of state oversight said the current system is unfair to large schools and there is no way to guarantee if the agency is being consistent with its decisions about student athletics.

Some oversight supporters, such as lawyer and former MU basketball captain Joe Scott, called the agency’s current system unfair and argued that although the association says it’s voluntary, schools can’t leave without a consequence.

“If you elect to say, ‘Well, we don’t have to belong to this,’ you have no one to play, you have no place to go to a band meeting or a debate or anything; you’re out,” Scott said.

Most of the state’s public and private schools are involved with the association.

Committee member Rep. Joe Aull, D-Marshall, used to work with the association and defended its existence.

“I fail to see what’s wrong with schools saying, ‘OK, if we’re going to compete with each other we’re going to make rules so that we’re all going to be on the same playing field,’” Aull said.

Supporters said most school activities have to be done through the group.

“It’s not voluntary if everybody has to be a member to be involved in any extra-curricular activities, so we need to get away from the idea this is a voluntary organization,” Wilson said.

The association has 772 member schools, including 582 senior high schools.

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