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High school activities association examined by House bill

April 03, 2003
By: Amaia Celorrio
State Capital Bureau
Links: HB 631

JEFFERSON CITY - Adam Perkins can run one mile in less than four minutes, which makes him one of the best high school runners in the country.

But due to a rule by the Missouri State High School Activities Association (MSHSAA), he cannot run both for an amateur group and for his high school team. He made a decision and decided not to run for his high school.

"I hope that no student athlete has to go through what I have gone through," Perkins told the House Tourism and Cultural Affairs Committee. "All I ask of the committee is not to hinder or punish personal excellence."

MSHSAA is a private, non-profit association that coordinates competition by students in various extracurricular activities.

Perkins was among several who testified before the committee on behalf of a bill to regulate the conditions under which public schools may join or retain membership in statewide activities associations that regulate competitive extracurricular activities.

"I am not here to get rid of MSHSAA," said the bill's sponsor -- Rep. Jane Cunningham, R-St. Louis County. "My motive is to focus on students, I believe they need to be treated with fairness and respect."

The bill would prohibit a school from joining an association if it did not conform to the state's open records and meetings law or if it refused to allow a student to be represented by counsel or other advocate at eligibility hearings.

"My basic principle is that we cannot undo the past, but we can ask these people to be more mindful, so that children can have more opportunities, especially in college," Johnson said.

Becky Oakes, executive director of MSHSAA, complained the bill implied that the organization doesn't follow the Sunshine Law.

"If it wasn't a good association, not every state would have one," she said.

Eric Mansfield, Superintendent of Southern Reynold's School District supported the bill and said that the more open an organization is, the better it is.

"Some policies of the MSHSAA have been too restrictive," he said.

Another provision of the bill would allow private school and home-school students to participate in extracurricular programs.

Linda Adams stood in front of the committee regarding her daughter's case.

"Theresa has played the clarinet in the band since she was in 7th grade, but on February, we realized that she is not allowed to participate anymore as she goes to one school and she plays in the band of another different school," Adams said.

She said she really felt that her daughter filled the expectations of eligibility and she decided to call MSHSAA.

"I talked to Mrs. Oakes and she didn't help at all," she said. "It's unfair that Theresa can't take part in the band."

Oakes answered that they had chosen a different form of education, so that they had made the decision on which programs they would join.

MSHSAA sets eligibility rules and other details of how students may compete in different activities for 760 schools statewide.

"The association's bylaws are adopted by a vote of member schools, so the board of directors of MSHSAA has no rule making authority," Oaks said. "It would be up to the schools to change the rule to which Perkins objects."