Tahlequah Daily Press

September 17, 2013

Legislator: OSSAA's power too expansive

Associated Press

— OKLAHOMA CITY — A state legislator said Monday a three-week review of the organization that oversees Oklahoma’s high school athletes, debate teams and cheerleaders was prompted by his concern that no one regularly watches the group and its $5 million budget funded in part by public school money.

The House Administrative Rules Committee will meet Tuesday to discuss the private, nonprofit Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association.

“There is no oversight,” Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, said. “The buck stops with them, and that’s it. If you don’t like their decision, you can go to district court.”

The OSSAA oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12, including the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility, among other things. It is governed by a 14-member board of mostly school principals and superintendents and has an annual operating budget of about $5 million.

Cleveland, a first-term legislator, said he’s fielded numerous complaints about the OSSAA, and those numbers grew after he unsuccessfully sponsored a bill last year that would have allowed home-schooled students to participate in public school extracurricular activities.

He also wants the association to be regularly audited by the state and subject to open meeting and open records laws.

OSSAA Executive Director Ed Sheakley said it’s not uncommon for people to get upset with the association, which has to make rulings in cases like hardship waivers for student transfers, as well as assign referees and develop playoff pairings for end-of-season tournaments.

“It’s the nature of the beast that there are going to be people unhappy with our decisions,” Sheakley said. “But also take into account we have 150,000 students who participate in our activities, both in the athletic and non-athletic arena. It’s likely you’re going to hear from some people who are disgruntled.”

Sheakley said the association also voluntarily complies with the state’s open records and meetings acts and has regular audits by a private firm.

“We think that we’re open and we’re very transparent,” Sheakley said.

Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, has said he scheduled the meetings — also set for Sept. 24 and Oct. 3 — to determine whether more transparency is needed because courts have labeled OSSAA a “quasi-government organization.”

Among those who plan to testify Tuesday is Lynn Martin, the publisher of the Alva Review-Courier newspaper. He says OSSAA officials denied him an opportunity to take photographs of Alva High School girls’ basketball team during the state championship trophy presentations last year because of a contract with a photography studio.

“These are taxpayer-supported teams,” Martin said. “And now we’re seeing some of this professional licensing stuff creep into what should be amateur sports.”

Sheakley confirmed the OSSAA limited photography for the presentation, but said individual players and schools were given an opportunity to pose with the trophies afterward.

“The awards presentation is not a photo shoot. We’ve got time constraints,” Sheakley said. “We can’t have a bunch of people delaying it and trying to take pictures.”