MAC ON SPORTS: WHATEVER IT TAKES: ATHLETIC DIRECTORS REACT TO FEES

J. Thomas McNamara

    Five of the 13 athletic directors responded to my request for their thoughts on the Illinois High School Association’s recent board action to levy a $100 fee for all teams entering state competition to help out them during its financial crisis brought about by the COVID-19 pandemic.
    Argenta-Oreana’s Athletic Director Mike Williams opined, “It’s not a ton of money in the overall picture.  Our main goal is to get our kids on the field and court as soon as possible.  If that takes a fee to make that happen, we are definitely in support.          
    Brandon Willard, Cerro Gordo/Bement’s athletic director, reacted, “Cerro Gordo is happy to pay an entry fee if it gives our student athletes a chance to participate in a state series.  Playing team sports is always exciting, but what makes High School teams sports the best is ability to have a tournament at the end of the season with the goal of representing your school/town.  I think for Cerro Gordo the 100 dollars is well worth it to give our student athletes that chance.

    Warrensburg-Latham Athletic Director Bret Reedy wrote, “I think in the short-term we would be willing to pay $100 for entry fees into IHSA postseason events to provide our student-athletes an opportunity to compete at the highest level.  There are also benefits to IHSA by providing additional funds to allow them to continue operation until we return to a new normal with full postseason events. In the long-term, we wouldn’t be in support of an annual fee to play in postseason events as this would put additional strain on athletic budgets when you are talking about thirteen sports that we provide.

     Kurt Younghouse, Decatur LSA,’s athletic director, offered, “If it takes $100 per sport to play, we will figure it out.  If it takes $250 per sport for teams to play, we will figure it out.”
    Maroa-Forsyth’s AD, Phil Applebee, responded to our inquiry, “We will pay what we need to pay to give our students a great opportunity. The IHSA offers great programs to our students and we are willing to step up and help them out if they need it.
    Following the Aug. 24 virtual IHSA virtual Board of Directors meeting, the organization announced,  “In conjunction with the modified fall state series, the Board approved a $100 state series entry fee for any school entering a team or individual in any of the fall sports.
    “The IHSA office is charged with the responsibility of being a good steward of the Association’s finances,” said Executive Director Craig Anderson. “The past few months have seen a significant reduction in the IHSA’s income, given the cancellation of the IHSA Boys Basketball State Finals and the entire spring season.  Financial challenges remain on the horizon in 2020-21 due to the limited number of sports currently classified as ‘low risk’ by the state, making the chances of conducting full state series tournaments unlikely at this time.
The IHSA By-laws allow the Board of Directors the discretion to implement entry fees into IHSA State Series tournaments.  The IHSA last charged tournament entry fees in 2004-05.
    “An overwhelming number of school administrators supported the fees in recent surveys,” said Anderson.  “Not charging entry fees has been a point of pride for the IHSA.  We are humbled by the support of our member schools during this difficult time, and appreciative of their support.”
    At that same meeting, Anderson announced the board approved a plan to conduct modified postseason state series tournaments in boys and girls golf, boys and girls cross country, girls swimming & diving, and girls tennis this fall.
    The approved plan will allow for a single round of regional geographic competition to be conducted the week of October 19-25, with the majority of the events expected to be held on Saturday, October 24.
“The health and safety of the student-athletes, their coaches, and their school communities has been our priority from the start of the pandemic,” said Anderson.  “Throughout the spring and summer, we looked for ways to reengage student-athletes with their peers and coaches, and our membership has shared countless positive experiences from that initial ‘return to play’ period.  We have found similar value in being able to conduct fall sports, and believe the participants deserve a culminating experience if we can offer it safely.”
The IHSA State Series tournaments will meet all Illinois Department of Public Health (IDPH) guidelines as it relates to COVID-19.  The IHSA will be finalizing and releasing details for each fall state series tournament in the coming weeks, including dates, schedules, awards, structure, and additional safety precautions.
    I will have more on this developing in a future print edition of the Decatur Tribune.

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