By: SEAN MURPHY Associated Press
October 4, 2013
OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) — Despite numerous complaints from legislators, coaches, and parents of student-athletes, the head of the embattled organization that governs Oklahoma high school sports said Thursday that there is no need for the Legislature to impose statutory restrictions on the group.
Ed Sheakley, the executive director of the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association, told members of the House Administrative Rules, Government Oversight and Repealer Committee that while there are some policy changes that should be made, they should come from the group’s member schools and the OSSAA’s governing board, not the Legislature.
Sheakley’s testimony came on the third and final day of the committee’s three-day probe into the association and its finances and two days after a scathing 7-2 opinion from the Oklahoma Supreme Court that determined the association acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in its handling of a high school football player’s case.
Among the suggestions discussed by legislators were requiring the OSSAA to comply with the state’s Open Records and Open Meetings laws.
“I believe we’re already doing that right now,” Sheakley said. “There’s nothing being done behind closed doors. I believe we’re very transparent with our membership.”
Sheakley also maintained that the association is a private, volunteer association, despite the Supreme Court’s suggestion in its ruling that it would treat the group in the future as a state agency because it is so interwoven with the public school system.
Chad Smith was the attorney for the successful plaintiff in the case, Brayden Scott, a senior quarterback at Sequoyah School in Tahlequah, a federal Indian boarding school operated by the Cherokee Nation, who had been ruled ineligible by OSSAA.
Smith, the former principal chief of the Cherokee Nation, testified at Thursday’s hearing that the OSSAA’s rulemaking process is convoluted and that its extensive policies and rules are difficult for the average parent or coach to understand.
“It was a nightmare,” Smith said.
Smith also said the governance and appeals process of the OSSAA, which involves a 14-member governing board of mostly school principals and superintendents, is “fatally flawed.”
He urged lawmakers to consider implementing an administrative law judge to handle appeals and streamline the association’s public rulemaking process.
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. Funded primarily through gate revenue from high school sports championship games, the association had a $5.4 million operating budget during the fiscal year that ended in June, and Sheakley said the agency also maintains a $2 million reserve fund and spent $400,000 in attorney fees last year.
The three-day hearing before the House Administrative Rules, Government Oversight and Repealer Committee involved testimony from numerous parents, coaches and attorneys and centered mostly around the emotionally charged issue of student transfers, where varsity athletes often lose a year of eligibility when changing districts.
“There are a lot of people who are not happy with this organization and I think it was a highly productive use of the committee’s time,” Chairman Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Laverne, said after the meeting. “Several pieces of legislation have been proposed from this study that will change business as usual at the OSSAA.”