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Lawmakers condemn IHSA rule change


4/11/2005 7:23:00 PM - Gaylesburg Register Mail


SPRINGFIELD (AP) - Playing defense for Catholic schools, members of an Illinois House committee on Thursday condemned a plan to make it harder for private schools to win state sports championships.


Lawmakers accused the Illinois High School Association of punishing coaches and students by adopting new rules that would force some private schools to compete against larger public schools.


Rep. Kevin Joyce, who played football at the private Chicago Marist High School, called the move "an aggressive discriminatory action" against private schools. It also penalizes families who pay to send their children to private school while still supporting public education with their taxes, he said.


"Now the IHSA wants to punish those families because they have made that choice to be a part of something, be part of a tradition," said Joyce, D-Chicago.


The House Education Committee held a hearing on the rule change, approved by the IHSA board last month, because of concerns the association went too far in its goal of promoting "competitive equity" with public teams. The Legislature has no authority to force the IHSA to drop its new rule.


Supporters of the change say private schools, which make up about 16 percent of IHSA's membership, have been winning a disproportionate number of state titles - more than one-third of championships over the last five years. They say that's partly because private schools have more flexibility in recruiting players.


"Our position is that the system has created an advantage for them and that through the system we need to make some modifications to make a more level playing field," said IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman.


The rule change means private schools with more than 450 students will be treated as if they have larger enrollments when it comes to deciding which class of schools they will compete against.


The change would bump 15 schools up one class in the eight-class IHSA football playoffs and three schools up two classes, Hickman said.


Western Big 6 Conference member Alleman is among the private Class A teams that will be bumped up to Class AA. According to the Moline Dispatch, Alleman Principal Colin Letendre and Larry Schulte, Alleman's athletic director, traveled to Springfield Thursday to speak out against the Illinois High School Association's recent decision.


The switch, slated to start this fall, is unfair and provides too little preparation time for schools, many of which already have arranged their fall game schedules, Letendre said.


At the urging of Rep. Pat Verschoore, D-Milan, himself an Alleman grad, an Illinois House education committee held a subject matter hearing on the issue Schulte was among those testifying against the change.


Joyce and other members suggested the change could lead to Catholic schools quitting the IHSA and the creation of separate state contests for private and public schools. Hickman said that was not the IHSA's intention.


Donald Sebestyen, principal at Providence Catholic High School in New Lenox, said his school may pursue legal action against the IHSA to stop the rule change.


Rep. Kevin McCarthy, whose children attend Providence, said it was important for the General Assembly to get involved even though it provides no money to the IHSA nor has authority over its actions because many people think the IHSA is rushing the change.


"I hope that maybe they can see that there are a lot of people really concerned about this," said McCarthy, D-Orland Park.


Hickman said the IHSA plans to go forward with the rules for the next school year but will work to provide information addressing the concerns of the lawmakers and schools.


At this point, state lawmakers only have sought information on the issue and for Reps. Jerry Mitchell, R-Sterling, and Don Moffitt, R-Gilson, that may be as far as the state should go.


"My feeling is that it's OK for us to ask the questions and shed some light on it for our constituents, but we don't want to really get in the middle of what the IHSA has to do," Rep. Mitchell told the Dispatch. "They have membership, they have people they have to work with, and God help us if we start making their decisions."




Copyright 2004 Victor Claveau. All Rights Reserved