After several complaints, lawmakers look into the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association. Parents and coaches are unhappy, and lawmakers say, if OSSAA doesn't make some changes, they'll make laws and do it for them.
"So far, from this study, I have serious questions over whether or not they're following the open meetings act," says Rep. Bobby Cleveland, (R)- Norman. "I also have grave concerns over the level of transparency in the budget process. There's also concern over a $100 appeals fee children need to pay. For many low income families and children from troubled homes, sports is the only place where they have structure and positive role models. This fee can drive many needy children away from sports and the positive structure it provides. There's been some criticism due to my study, but I will not be intimidated," says Rep. Cleveland, listing the many issues he has with OSSAA. "I'm trying my best to keep an open mind and listen to all sides," says Rep. Cleveland.
"We've had some parents and coaches who are kind of disgruntled on decisions by the OSSAA," says Ed Sheakley, Executive Director of OSSAA. He says, with over 15-thousand students involved in activities, there are bound to be some parents and coaches who are unhappy with his organization's decisions.
"What we're looking for is a better open line of communication," says Jeff Myers, head football coach for Kingfisher High School. Having coached the school for 10 years, Myers says he's unhappy with the cut in funding to the football programs through playoff reimbursements. "There's a lot of schools, including ourselves, that have been fortunate to be successful and look to that as a part of our budget," says Myers. He says that money goes toward expensive equipment for the students, and even though his team made five playoff games last season, they received a "minuscule amount." "With that money being cut, then we end up having to ask for more money from our school district. You're talking about helmets that are $250. You're talking about shoulder pads that are at least $150 to $200," he says.
"We went from reimbursing seven different activities to 12 different activities. Last year alone, we gave back $600-thousand to our membership," says Sheakley, explaining that OSSAA members voted to distribute the money in a different way, among more activities. He says they also used some of that money to purchase nicer medals and trophies, and more of them.
However, Myers disagrees. "We have never gotten enough medals to accommodate our entire team... and that's not right," says Myers.
Sheakley says the organization gives the same amount of medals to each team, depending on the sport. "In baseball, we give 22 medals. In softball, we give 22. In basketball, we give 15," says Sheakley, explaining that they give the amount that they've determined the average team has. He says football is different because there is no set limit on the number of people the team can have on their roster, so they can't afford to supply medals for every student. He says the team is welcome to purchase more if they want.
"If the OSSAA is a non-profit organization and they're all about the kids, which has been quoted by them, then why is it that more of the money isn't going back to the schools?" asks Myers. He says, he doesn't want to get rid of the OSSAA, but he says the communication between coaches and OSSAA is not good.
Again, Sheakley disagrees. "Coaches are a big part of our organization. We have good communication with them, and we don't ever want to exclude them from the communication process," says Sheakley.
"I see how they treated some of these poor kids-- the rudeness that some of the board of directors give to these kids..." says Rep. Cleveland. There are certain rules when it comes to a student's eligibility after they change schools, and OSSAA gets to vote and make decisions on some of those cases. Some parents and coaches have concerns over the fairness of those decisions. "A young man about 15-years-old, weighed about 100-pounds, about 5' 3", and he'd been picked on at his school, so his parents moved him away from that school to get away from that environment," says Rep. Cleveland, recalling one of those decisions. Rep. Cleveland says the student's parents wanted him to play football at his new school. "The coach said he wasn't a good ball player, but the parents wanted him to be a part of the organization and part of that structure so he could get something from it. It was admitted, he's not a good ball player, he's not going to make a different in their team, but it was going to help him through life... and they voted no," says Rep. Cleveland.
"We think that we've been very fair. We think that we've been very consistent," says Sheakley, saying his organization makes over one-thousand of these decisions each year, so there are bound to be some parents who disagree with the outcome. Sheakley says there's an appeals process for parents and players if they dislike they final outcome, but Rep. Cleveland says that process is too expensive for some families.
A reporter for a local newspaper attended the first hearing and said he was not allowed to take pictures of a basketball award ceremony because "the privilege had been given to a photo studio that had paid for the right." Sheakley says, "At this point in time, we do have a vendor there that takes that picture. We ask the rest of the media just to hold off during this time." Sheakley says the awards ceremony is limited to only a few minutes, and after it is finished, the media is allowed to take as many pictures as they want with the players and coaches. He says, the media is given a press pass to take as many pictures as they want during the game, as well.
Barry Switzer, former OU football coach, also attended the meeting and raised questions about why his grandchildren, who are home schooled, are unable to participate in public school athletics. "Right now, there is no regulation over home school students, so until that changes, our membership is not really interested in home schoolers and the home school organizations will tell you that they're not interested in any regulations," says Sheakley. He says home school children have a variety of activities that they can participate in.
"They're not about the children. They're about the money, power and ego," says Rep. Cleveland.
But, Sheakley says he has a child himself, and the organization is only about the children.
The next hearing will take place Tuesday, Sept. 24, in which financial concerns will be discussed. The third hearing will take place on Oct. 3, and OSSA will get to respond.
Cleveland says, at the end of the study, OSSA will be presented with a list of changes to make. "If OSSAA is not going to do that, then we will be forced to write some laws to do it for them," says Rep. Cleveland.