Proposed bill could lead to an overhaul of MSHSAA

Wednesday, March 19, 2003

JEFFERSON CITY, Mo. -- The governing association for high school sports and other student activities would be required to drastically overhaul its regulations or effectively be forced out of business under legislation considered by a House committee Tuesday.

During somtimes angry testimony, parents from around Missouri complained that the Missouri State High School Activities Association has too much power and too little oversight.

Linda Adams of Poplar Bluff said the MSHSAA barred her daughter, Theresa, from participating in state band competitions, ruling she isn't really a student at Poplar Bluff High School. Theresa, a freshman clarinetist, attends the bulk of her classes at Southern Missouri Christian School but is enrolled in band at the public school.

"Her classmates think it is stupid she can't take part," Linda Adams said. "I think it is unfair."

Supporters of limiting MSHSAA's authority dominated the 1 1/2-hour hearing, but opponents of the bill also helped pack the hearing room. The bill's foes will present their side to the House Tourism and Cultural Affairs Committee in two weeks.

MSHSAA director Becky Oakes said after the hearing that many of the claims made by the association's detractors were riddled with inaccuracies or referred to controversial rules that no longer exist.

Oakes said the MSHSAA staff and executive board have no rule-making authority. Rule changes are voted on by the association's 800 member schools, which include both public and private systems.

"This piece of legislation is harmful to schools and harmful to students," Oakes said.

State Rep. Jason Brown, R-Platte City, said he has been overwhelmed with e-mails from school officials opposed to the legislation.

Though the bill targets MSHSAA, it would prohibit public school districts from membership in any activities association that runs afoul of any one of several provisions, including:

Not fully complying with the state's open meetings and open records law.

Barring students from bringing an attorney or other advocates to eligibility hearings.

Having rules that prohibit home school or private school students from participating in extracurricular activities offered by their local public school.

Forcing private schools to compete against larger public school in district and state tournament playoffs.

nFailing to provide reasonable due process in eligibility appeals.

State Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-Chesterfield, said she was prompted to file the legislation after receiving complaints about the MSHSAA. House Speaker Pro Tem Rod Jetton, R-Marble Hill is a cosponsor.

Cunningham said she expects the bill to stir controversy and face stiff resistance.

"Whenever you start into disturbing the status quo and have an organization that is very powerful and has a lot of money behind it, you are going to generate heat," Cunningham said.

Since Missouri courts traditionally have deferred to the MSHSAA's authority to govern high school activities, Cunningham said it is virtually impossible to challenge the association's actions in court.

Southern Reynolds County School District superintendent Eric Mansfield said he supports MSHSAA but said the organization needs changes.

"We have allowed a bureaucratic institution to mandate a lot of our interaction with students," Mansfield said.

To officially participate in a particular activity, schools have to pay the MSHSAA a fee. However, Mansfield said many small schools in his area barely afford the fee. If his school chooses to compete with nearby non-member schools, it faces sanctions.

Oakes said a rule change to allow competition between member and non-member institutions will be voted on this summer.

The bill is HB 631.

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