Tahlequah Daily Press

Sports

September 18, 2013

OSSAA faces criticism

OKLAHOMA CITY — Parents, coaches and school administrators voiced numerous complaints on Tuesday about a lack of oversight of the organization that oversees tens of thousands of Oklahoma high school athletes, cheerleaders and other extracurricular activities.

People from across Oklahoma were invited by legislators to testify before the House Administrative Rules Committee about their experience with the private, nonprofit Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association. Tuesday’s day-long hearing is one of three such meetings scheduled before the committee over the next month to determine whether more transparency and oversight is needed for the association.

“Because the OSSAA makes decisions that affect so many lives and derives money that is public in nature, there must be accountability and transparency,” said Rep. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, who requested the study. “It is our intent to answer serious, significant questions that have arisen.”

Among the complaints voiced Tuesday were from parents who were upset about OSSAA’s decisions on transfer requests and from football coaches concerned about the way revenue is shared from high school football playoff games. Lawmakers also heard from the athletic director at Bishop McGuinness High School, a private Catholic school in Oklahoma City, who complained about the rules governing private schools.

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 had an annual operating budget last year of $5.4 million.

Much of the association’s revenue comes from gate receipts for high school playoff games, which generated more than $4.5 million last year, according to the agency’s financial statements. After expenditures associated with the playoffs, the association reported netting about $1.8 million.

Kim Longest, head football coach at Duncan High School and president of the Oklahoma Football Coaches Association, said the association has been unwilling to negotiate over how the playoff revenue is divided.

“You’re not going to make any money if you go to the playoffs anymore in football,” Longest said. “In fact, you’re probably going to lose money.”

OSSAA’s Executive Director Ed Sheakley, who was not invited to address the committee on Tuesday, said the agreement on the revenue sharing for football playoff games was agreed to by a majority of its member schools and makes more money available to reimburse schools in other sports and extracurricular activities.

“We do keep more of the money, and with that amount we have been able to increase reimbursement in all our other activities, increase basketball reimbursement, increase activities that were never able to get reimbursement in the past,” said Sheakley, who said it’s not uncommon for his organization to be the target of complaints.

“You look at all the decisions we make throughout the course of a year ... hardship waivers, playoff contests, hiring of officials and putting on events,” Sheakley said. “Is there going to be disgruntled people along the way? Sure there is. You can’t make the number of decisions we make on a daily basis without people being disgruntled.”

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