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Prep sports: WIAA opposes lawmaker’s high school sports proposal

BLACK RIVER FALLS — The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association is mobilizing against a bill that would allow students receiving their education outside a WIAA-affiliated institution to play for public school athletic teams.

WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson Thursday urged superintendents and athletic directors to contact their state legislators and “tell them the bill is a dog.”

“We have strong reservations about this,” Anderson said during an area meeting, one of 10 the WIAA conducts across the state.

The bill, introduced by state Rep. Jeremy Thiesfeldt, R-Fond du Lac, mandates that students attending a charter or virtual school — and home-schooled students — be allowed to participate in interscholastic activities in the public school district in which they reside.

The bill would prohibit school districts from belonging to any organization that does not allow such participation. Because the WIAA is a private organization outside of the legislature’s reach, the bill would effectively force the WIAA to accept the change or lose its entire public school membership.

Anderson asked the 50 people in attendance if anyone supported the bill. Nobody raised his or her hand.

La Crosse Aquinas principal Ted Knutson said private schools aren’t pushing the idea.

“I don’t know where this came from,” Knutson said. “It doesn’t have private-school support.”

Anderson said Thiesfeldt didn’t consult the WIAA before introducing the bill. He expressed concern the bill would make it more difficult for the WIAA to track students and monitor eligibility. He said the original reason the WIAA was founded in 1895 was to verify whether participants actually were high school students.

“If we’re going to play against each other, we need to know who we’re competing against,” Anderson said. “We aren’t like the NCAA. We don’t have an investigative branch. We don’t have an enforcement branch.”

The bill also would require public schools to allow private school students to play on their sports teams if the student’s private school does not offer the sport.

Anderson and Knutson said that part of the bill is unnecessary. Knutson said private schools can form a cooperative with a public school. He offered the La Crosse Aquinas/Holmen/Gale-Ettrick-Trempealeau hockey co-op as an example.

Anderson said any school — whether it’s a private, charter or virtual school — is free to join the WIAA for the annual fee of $25.

La Crosse Central athletic director Joe Beran said the bill, if enacted, would make it difficult for the WIAA to establish accurate enrollment figures for determining division placement in postseason tournaments.

No more conference assigning?

On another issue, Anderson said it’s likely the WIAA will relinquish its role in assigning conference affiliation. He said the WIAA could propose the change as early as next year.

“That’s the way it used to be … it’s probably the way it’s done in most states,” Anderson said. “You can reclaim the authority to take on conference realignment yourself.”

The first hour of the meeting was devoted to issues of amateur standing. Anderson said the WIAA has long allowed an “exceptional-athlete waiver for an exceptional competition,” in which the athlete’s travel, lodging and meal costs are reimbursed.

Recently there has been a proliferation of all-expense-paid camps. The WIAA prohibits student-athletes being reimbursed for travel, meals and gear for such camps, and most in attendance opposed changing the regulation.

Fall Creek athletic director Brad LaPoint said outside groups that host camps and out-of-season competitions pose a threat to high school athletics.

“When we look ahead 20 to 30 years, what we have won’t exist,” LaPoint said. “It will be like Europe.”

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