In what has become an annual ritual at the Kansas Statehouse, lawmakers again this year will consider bills that would overturn certain rules on high school athletic competition and revamp the board that supervises school competitions.
This year, however, critics of the Kansas State High School Activities Association have ramped up their public relations campaign by releasing a YouTube video that explains why they think parents – as opposed to teachers, coaches and school officials – should have more say in governing high school competition.
“The current board is a bit antiquated for our state,” said Margaret Bonicelli of Overland Park, who appears in the video. “Other states are light years ahead of us, and we haven't made changes to our board in many, many, many years.”
The video is aimed at drumming up support for H.B. 2197. That bill would revamp the governing boards of all interscholastic leagues in Kansas, making sure that community members who aren't educators make up half of each league's governing board. It would also give non-educators at least four out of 14 seats on an expanded KSHSAA executive board.
Another bill, H.B. 2307, would extend to cheerleading the same special exemption lawmakers approved two years ago for swimming. It would lift the KSHSAA ban on participating on high school and private athletic club teams at the same time.
Supporters say parents of student-athletes should have more say in how competitions are governed - competitions that can be the key to students earning scholarships and qualifying for Division I college athletics.
But critics fear it would take authority from schools and their coaches to manage their own teams and programs, and sets up situations in which school a team could lose a star player in important games due to scheduling conflicts with club competitions.
"As your season progresses, you get down to the final days of tournaments, then proceeding to the post-season, and all of a sudden an athlete might decide to go to Las Vegas for a two-day tournament that's the same day as the sub-state or state tournament is happening at your high school, so now the kid has to make a choice," Lawrence High School athletics director Ron Commons said. "If parents are involved in that, they see the glamor of going on, and in their own self-interest, they leave the rest of their high school team sitting without their star player."
Bonicelli, whose two sons were competitive swimmers at Blue Valley Northwest High School, was instrumental in lobbying for a bill in 2011 that lifted the ban on dual-participation for swimmers. Sen. Vicki Schmidt, a Topeka Republican who also raised two sons who were championship swimmers, was chief sponsor of that measure in the Legislature.
“They were both All-Americans,” Schmidt said of her sons. “They both went to Olympic trials. So they were very accomplished swimmers in high school. Both had to make the decision of whether they continued with high school swimming, or didn't do high school swimming and just continued with their club swimming.”
The dual-participation ban still applies to other sports, so Bonicelli and others are pushing for structural changes to the activities association's executive board, as well as governing boards of all high school leagues, in hopes of giving parents more influence. The current executive board is made up entirely of school employees, school board members and members of the Kansas State Board of Education.
“I guess (the bill) presumes that people who are licensed educators either aren't qualified or can't be trusted to make good decisions about school activity programs,” said Gary Musselman, executive director of KSHSAA.
Rep. Ed Trimmer, Winfield, who is ranking Democrat on the House Education Committee, said he sees no reason to change the governing board's structure, and he also supports the ban on dual participation, even though his daughter was a competitive swimmer in private swim clubs.
“What you have are kids who never practice with the team, and then come to the meets and swim in place of somebody who's been practicing with the team,” Trimmer said. “So that student is never allowed to practice with that better swimmer to improve themselves and see a higher standard.”
But Kansas House Speaker Ray Merrick, R- Stilwell, who has been a critic of the current organization for many years, believes the change would be good for competition.
“There are a lot of school districts in the state that can't come out and say it, but they view the Kansas State High School Activities Association as a dictatorial agency,” Merrick said. “Some of the decisions they make completely take the parents out of the equation, and I think they're the ones that should be responsible.”
Bills aimed at overhauling the governance of KSHSAA have been introduced several times in the past. But Bonicelli believes it has a better chance this year, mainly because many legislators who had opposed changes in the past were defeated in the 2012 elections.
“Definitely, we have more support now in both the Senate and the House,” she said.