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IHSA, lawmaker butt heads on HR 895

IHSA Executive Director Marty Hickman believes the not-for-profit organization he oversees is being targeted by the state representative who has introduced a house resolution seeking more transparency from the association.

House Resolution 895, brought forward by State Rep. Linda Chapa LaVia, D-Aurora, seeks to set up public hearings on how the IHSA administers and funds high school sports. But Hickman takes exception to a suggestion listed in the final lines of the resolution that the hearings also consider "the feasibility of statutorily transferring the duties and functions of the IHSA to the Illinois State Board of Education."

Hickman said in a radio interview with WRMJ in Aledo that Chapa LaVia's proposal amounts to a state takeover. In a phone interview with Shaw Media on Friday afternoon, Hickman said the IHSA felt blindsided by the legislator's efforts.

"We feel like we're a very responsible organization," Hickman said. "We pay our bills, we fund our pension, we balanced our budget and I would be happy to put our record of fiscal responsibility up against anyone – including the state of Illinois.

"If it's that kind of conduct that warrants the government coming in and targeting you, then we are really in a bad way."

But Chapa LaVia said Friday afternoon that it never was her intent to turn the IHSA's duties over to the state board of education. It's a message she said she told Hickman along with State Rep. Jehan Gordon, D-Peoria, when they met this week.

Instead, she said, her goal with the resolution is to seek transparency on some of the contracts that the IHSA – which she characterized Friday as being "untouchable" – currently maintains.

"I said it over and over," Chapa LaVia said. "So now, we're at the point where he's just lying."

Added the State Rep: "It just makes me suspicious the way he is reacting."

Chapa LaVia said this week she is not conducting a "witch hunt." But she believes people should have a window into how the IHSA conducts its business.

At issue is a series of exclusive contracts that the IHSA maintains with vendors and suppliers that provide athletic equipment and clothing in exchange, the resolution reads, for monetary compensation to the IHSA. The IHSA also receives funds from the National Federation of High Schools that holds the broadcast rights for IHSA state tournaments.

But because the IHSA holds 501(c)(3) status, Hickman said he and the association's board of directors are not obligated to provide that information. He points to the fact that the IHSA posts its financials and annual report on its website as evidence that the IHSA has nothing to hide.

"Look at other organizations that are out there that are similar to us – 501(c)(3)'s – tell me another one that is under the same scrutiny that we are," Hickman said. "I don't know what more transparency we should have. I think we're pretty transparent."

Chapa LaVia, however, considers the IHSA different because it oversees athletics being played at the state's public and private schools. The resolution states that "public high school athletic and academic programs belong to the taxpayers who fund their local school districts." But Hickman said that schools are not mandated to carry IHSA membership, giving them the option not to operate within its boundaries.

Earlier this week, both the Illinois Press Association and Illinois Broadcaster's Association backed Chapa LaVia's request for more transparency, stating that the IHSA has "almost no accountability or oversight."

Again, Hickman refers to the IHSA's not-for-profit status and can't understand why the association is being targeted by Chapa LaVia. He characterized this week's meeting as two sides moving in opposite directions and that he – like Chapa LaVia – isn't certain where the process will go moving forward. Both sides maintain they've got lawmakers supporting their respective opinions.

"There's some things that we don't feel are the kind of things that we would release – including these contracts – because of our agreement from these groups," Hickman said.

Hickman said that some of the agreements help fund IHSA programs and "do more for high schools." He said the IHSA does not charge schools to participate in events and that the association gave $2.7 million in revenue last year.

Chapa LaVia said, however, that if that's the case and if the IHSA has done plenty of good for high school athletics, it shouldn't have a problem being more open. Part of her bottom line, she said, is making sure that "people aren't profitting off our kids unjustly."

"Why should [Hickman] worry?" Chapa LaVia said. "If he's doing such a great job, he shouldn't be worried. ... People want to know there is transparency there. There's a lot of money going in and out of the organization. If you're saying you've given $2 million to the schools in my state, then that's my business."

Hickman disagreed, saying the IHSA shouldn't have to answer for how it conducts business, especially when he said much of the revenue – including the nearly $11 million the IHSA reported it generated in 2012 and 2013, according to its annual report – is being put back into operating tournaments and other events for the 300,000 students in Illinois who participate in sports.

Chapa LaVia's resolution and inquiries leave Hickman scratching his head.

"To criticize someone for having quality relationships with quality companies," Hickman said, "is just hard for me to fathom."

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