Below are notes taken during the House interim study on the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association (OSSAA) held on Tuesday, September 17, 2013. It is not a complete transcript of everything that was said. The study was held before the Administrative Rules, Government Oversight and Repealers committee.
Rep. Gus Blackwell (committee chair): there have been some phone calls of a threatening nature to some members so I will have more control of this meeting.
Rep. Bobby Cleveland (requested the study): there must be accountability and transparency.
Rep. Marty Quinn: I plan to approach this with an open mind. I have no axe to grind, but I won’t stick my head in the sand and not listen to problems that need to be addressed. Whey of see some if the problems, it is our responsibility to address them. I have no animosity. We will do our due diligence.
Rep. Curtis McDaniel: I want to convey that same message. We are here to see changes and get to the bottom of these issues. This is a bipartisan issue.
Kevin Sain, Idabel attorney: I had my first case against OSSAA back in 2010. I’ve consulted with 30 different families or schools, but encourage them not to mention my involvement because when you say you have an attorney, OSSAA doesn’t like that. In the Kevin Rucker case, he was a student at Tulsa Central where his dad was an assistant coach. Head coach went to Idabel with entire staff. They all slept in same place for nine days and OSSAA started an investigation because player was staying with head coach. Wasn’t allowed to train or play in first seven games of the season. The association punished the student athlete, but not the school that filled out forms incorrectly. The next case is Wright City whose baseball team was barred from tournament because OSSAA said they had two scrimmages outside of time frame. Said they had competitive advantage. But State Supreme Court could not find anything in OSSAA rules that supported that. OSSAA stopped the tournament while they appealed the decision. We discovered Yukon participated in tournament despite violating the same rules. They said it wasn’t the same because there wasn’t a semi-final game. In my opinion, the difference is the big district had a representative on the Board but Wright City did not. They make an exception for one team but not another. They are not consistent. They are more about who you know and who is your friend on the board. Here are some suggestions: be consistent; don’t be adversarial to the point where people won’t talk with you; every case should be written up and signed by those involved because they always cite precedents, but those don’t have anything to do with the case; board needs to be more accessible to review decisions, can’t be once per month; must follow rules passed by membership and if not, explain why; and it should be easier to get hardships. Students don’t get to decide when they move or where they move.
Rep. Kay Floyd: is there any rule that allows for removing ourself if there is a conflict? Sin: that was discussed and she did remove herself at the hearing, but not the investigation.
Rep. Justin Wood: did you know KJ or his family before this? Sain: no, not until this issue arose.
Blackwell: did the suspended coach not get paid for that semester? Sin: the district was ale to shuffle personnel, but had I known all the details at the time we would not have agreed to that.
Duncan football coach Kim Longest: representing OK football coaches association: all three associations felt they were not being heard by OSSAA. We were told any progress we made was lost because we let Rp. Cleveland talk to our group. Last year Jenks received $7,500 for their championship run. If they got 20% of the gate, it would have been $30,000. They’ve taken away our championship plaques. OFBCA picks and chooses the rules they go by. We don’t want to feel intimidated when we go through proper channels and talk with superintendents to get our points across. We don’t want to dissolve OSSAA, we just want a change in opening lines of communication and return playoff revenue.
Rep. Glen Mulready: so they no longer get a percentage of the gate? Longest: correct, it’s a set amount no matter the size of the crowd.
Blackwell: do other sports have a problem with you getting a percentage? Longest: probably. But getting a team ready for football costs more. What they are giving other sports doesn’t compare to what we used to get for football.
Sulphur football coach Jim Dixon: coaches are in this business for kids. That’s who we represent. Relationship between coaches and OSSAA is at all time low. They need to listen to the majority. Is this the United States or is it Russia? The majority should rule. For years and decades competing schools divided the gate revenue. It was a big part of a school’s athletic budget, now it’s a big part of OSSAA’s budget. Biggest problem is Ed Sheakley. Is OSSAA about money or kids?
Quinn: how or why have we arrived at the current situation? Dixon: it’s the leadership, or lack of it.
Cleveland: when OSSAA signed the contract with Reebok, who bought the footballs? Dixon: we did. Cleveland: so OSSAA gets the money and you have to pay? Dixon: yes.
Wood: who holds OSSAA accountable? Dixon: good question. Wood: so it’s an organization running itself with no accountability? Dixon: I think so.
Blackwell: how much was the contract with Reebok for? Dixon: I don’t.
Mustang football Coach Glennis Ring: we paid our $100 to OSSAA to get on board meeting. We attended with our attorney and turned down because we did not meet criteria. I know of another coach who had same situation and his son was approved without question. That same coach moved again and was again given the same hardship. My son doesn’t get to play on Friday nights. It ain’t what you know, it’s who you know. If you call up Ed Sheakley and he treats you like a dog. And you appeal to the board and one of the board members did the same thing I’m talking about. The inconsistency of this association is rotten from the top to the bottom. You got one guy running it and the others are tokens. They do what he tells them to do. I’ve committed my life to work for the children of Ok and then we have an inconsistent organization that thinks they are above God. They think they are the NCAA. He’s in every AP class there is. Paul’s Valley doesn’t offer those. Why do we need OSSAA? Are you saying we can’t do this without them? As a parent it upsets me that we have to answer to a group that isn’t accountable to anything.
Cleveland: we’re you told specifically why your son couldn’t play? Ring: we didn’t meet the criteria. Cleveland: at Paul’s Valley they had AP courses for sophomores at one point? Ring: in 2010. They dropped it because not enough kids participated. And their AP classes got an F from the State Superintendent. Cleveland: and what AP courses is he taking at Mustang? Ring: European History, Geometry, nearly all of his non-athletic classes are AP.
Mulready: what does OSSAA have against you? Ring: at Edmond North we tried to get my son up there and they don’t allow transfers. So I called Mr. Sheakley, he was mad as a hornet when he answered the phone. I asked if there is one school that doesn’t allow transfers, why couldn’t you make an exception so I could live with one of the coaches. But that would be illegal because of dual residence. I’m concerned about this association as a parent. Mulready: what would be your suggested system of oversight? Ring: let the coaches in the district decide. You can’t tell me a group of coaches couldn’t decide that. Or the districts. Why do we need these guys?
Cleveland: one of the state laws with the Open Meeting Act is you vote by roll call. That didn’t happen? Ring: no, they raised their hands. Cleveland: does OSSAA split the TV contract money with schools? Ring: I know they didn’t with Ringling and Wynnewod.
Bishop McGuinness athletic director Jeff Stoller: I’ve heard some personal attacks against OSSAA staff. I just want to say I’ve never had any problems dealing with them. When we were winning multiple tennis championships or cross-country, no one cared. When we won back-to-back football championships, they looked into new rules for private schools. Now, if we do well, we have to move up a class. We are being punished for our success. We have 675 students and are playing schools with 4,500 students. All private schools together are about the size of the Norman school district. We can’t run faster or jump higher. I believe there is a mistreatment of private school students by OSSAA. When I see students losing opportunities, it’s not right.
Quinn: why is three years out of five used? Stoller: I’m not sure. I guess the committee felt that was right. I wish it was year by year so when a group of good athletes graduate, the school doesn’t stay up for three years.
Cleveland: do you feel like OSSAA discriminates against private schools? Stoller: I do. The member schools that voted for this, it was a herd mentality. People have a view that kids attending private schools are wealthy. That’s not true. Plus they are still paying taxes for public schools.
Blackwell: do you see a similarity with home schools and virtual schools? Stoller: I do. The parents are similar. We try to schedule games against them when we can.
Lynn Martin, Alva Review-Courier Publisher: I think OSSAA is making decisions that benefit their vendors. Burlington Schools are in our area and I do pictures for them. As teams make their way up through playoffs, I travel far to support the teams. OSSAA issues credentials to photographers like me. At State Fair Arena the OSSAA staff couldn’t have been more supportive. the jaw-dropping moment happened after the final game. When the trophy presentation was made, each player got a medal and the team a trophy. We were prevented from taking pictures of individual players getting medals. I was told the vendors paid for exclusivity of the photograph opportunities. And if parents and relatives want a copy of the picture, they have to pay. I wonder if OSSAA can legally take pictures of minors and sell them to someone without permission of their parents.
John Argo, Norman parent: my son was a freshman when team played Broken Arrow in soccer finals. Referees encouraged late hits. On April 16, 2002, my son had his back broken after a late hit. Wasn’t called a foul at the time. Hoped my son could be recognized at final game, but was told limit was 22 players. But opponents had 25 members introduced and participated in pre-game warmups. I filed a complaint with Norman Athletic Director. I was told the district stands by decision to limit to 22 players. I asked OSSAA for permission to allow Norman to have the extra player in uniform. The only thing I know for sure is that NHS feels my son would not be allowed while Broken Arrow would have allowed it. If OSSAA can’t follow it’s rules, why do you lawmakers allow them to have this responsibility? I’m still dealing with OSSAA’s insurance. Their idea of customer service is challenging the father of a child with a broken back. I challenge anyone in the state of Oklahoma to look me in the eye and say the OSSAA does not need some oversight or accountability. (Note: I changed the last sentence of Mr. Argo’s statement per his comment below. When I originally copied and pasted them from my notes, apparently some words got deleted that made it sound as if Mr. Argo felt OSSAA did not require oversight. That is clearly not the case. My apologies to Mr. Argo for the error.)
Phyllis Walta, attorney for Moore School District: ten years ago I represented a coach who sued OSSAA. They are a voluntary organization. They are an unincorporated association which only has powers its members have. 10th Circuit Court says OSSAA is a state actor for 14th Amendment issues. It’s money comes from public schools. It’s own constitution says it must follow Open Meeting Act. I don’t think they meet their mission. They have money to pay board members. They have money to provide cars for staff. Yet they charge $100 for a student to fe an appeal. An organization charged with running extracurricular activities should to charge for appeals. By ruling on eligibility, it makes them a quasi governmental agency. They violate the Open Meeting Act. 12 members of the board are school superintendents who know what should be done. Transparency is grossly lacking. They strongly assert they don’t need to comply with Open Records Act. It’s common knowledge that what school district you are from determines how they will rule. In the Wight School District case, the Supreme Court ruled that the executive director did not follow rules. I was at appeal hearing for student appealing hardship case. The way the student was cross-examined made me ashamed. He was treated as if he was trying to get a million dollars from the board. That’s not the mission of this voluntary organization. Schools don’t treat students that way. The OSSAA retaliates against students and districts that challenge them. I think there needs to be legislation that any voluntary organization governing extracurricular activities follow Open Meeting and Open Records Act, should provide monthly spending reports, be prohibited from lobbying since schools can’t lobby.
Cleveland: OSSAA does not bring up the budget in public meetings but in private sessions. Walta: that is very disturbing and violates its own constitution.
Rep. Jason Murphey: thank you for the recommendations. Is there any statute allowing member institutions or anyone to seek action on the meeting violations? Walta: an individual could, the question is whether they are covered by the Open Meeting Act. Murphey: how long have these concerns been brought forward without action being taken? Walta: I couldn’t say. Agendas have improved over the last ten years, but I don’t know if anyone brought this to their attention before. Murphey: has anyone attempted to litigate a denial of open records? Walta: no, I have gotten some records with them saying they didn’t have to provide them. But I didn’t ask for financial records.
Blackwell: if we passed legislation that OSSAA is a public entity, that would solve that dilemma? Walta: absolutely. Blackwell: and would they be obligated to publish financial records? Walta: certainly they’d have to provide it to those who asked. Blackwell: if they didn’t oversee state championships, do you think many schools would join? Walta: I couldn’t say that would be up to coaches.
Jimmy Gasso, Norman North parent: I’m here to discuss an incident that happened this past baseball season. The team decided they would play in a spring tournament in Florida. They had to ask OSSAA for permission and everything was approved prior to the season. It was played in a minor league stadium, but there weren’t many people working there. I was on the side opposite our team and talking with someone there. The opposition had a roster of about 15 students. They looked like major league talent. They were all from the Dominican Republic and affiliated with a private school. They aren’t allowed to play in their state championship as a result. My son was crossing home plate when the opposing pitcher slid into him after a throw went high. The catcher hit my son from behind and the benches cleared. I jumped onto the field, verbally directing the kids in Spanish to get back into the dugout. Order was finally maintained. Coming one I got a phone call saying OSSAA was investigating. I felt I needed to help out and w in a position to do so. Then Norman North principal called to say I was being suspended for four days because any parent that comes on the field would be suspended. I think there needs to be common sense. The OSSAA is too black-and-white. It’s their way or the highway. Coaches have no say in what they want their conferences to look like. OSSAA is out of control, too dictatorial. I didn’t volunteer to work the state championship this year because they are charging the volunteers admission. That’s money-hungry. Why aren’t they giving money back to the schools?
Blackwell: OSSAA suspend you four games for an incident in Florida? Gasso: yes. Blackwell: did they review the tapes? Gasso: I think it was just the information they got from the school.
Trey McNiel, produces All American Senior Bowl in San Antonio: we formulated national championship teams to play in this tournament only to find out it could be illegal according to OSSAA and the kids could receive sanctions. Rather than us risking that, we stepped down. A celebrity got his attorney involved so five kids could participate in the San Antonio game. They don’t treat football like they treat other sports. When football ends, he can’t participate in any club events until May 15th. Meanwhile, soccer players can compete year round in club activities. I was told the rules are trying to protect players from their parents. I think they need more consistency in how they treat all sports and all-star events.if one thing comes out of this, I wish they would treat football the same when it comes to all-star events.
Murphey: how active are discussions about changing the rules? McNiel: there are no discussions. Murphey: have board members closed down discussions? McNiel: I was told that a superintendent would have to initiate action. Murphey: have you seen any incidents where people are leaving the state as a result? McNiel: no, not as yet.
Blackwell: how could OSSAA not give answers on its own rules? McDaniel: I don’t know. We were just told they could be found ineligible down the road so we called it off.
Leon Davis, Tulsa parent: I’m a father of four kids. My youngest son is a senior at Union HS playing basketball. My older son was homeschooled as a result of this incident. We were a unique situation. There’s an entry of the form on OSSAA where you have to rate the ability of the player. I wasn’t going to lie about my son’s ability. The 8th grader was MVP of his team. My youngest was recognized as well. So I checked that they were very good. We had a house outside Sapulpa. We built another house outside Sapulpa. The AD and superintendent submitted documentation saying they wanted to do a hardship because they wanted him playing varsity because of his abilities. We had no problems at all. We ran into some financial issues and the house we built was in the city of Mounds but the Liberty school district with our children going to Sapulpa. We trusted the OSSAA would do the right thing. We said we had a financial hardship. The rules appeared to be black-and-white. The home was being foreclosed. We started losing our clients over a three-year stretch. We lost $163K in annual income. I provided documentation of bona fide hardship including financial statements for five years. We were denied a financial hardship. I wasn’t asking for a handout. The first judge granted a temporary injunction. OSSAA said if Union played my son they might have to forfeit. That word got out and people started calling my son. Mr Sheakley told a judge our loss of over $13K per month was not a financial hardship. Judge asked both sides if they could come to a resolution. They asked us for more financial records, all of our mortgage records, a statement on the car dealership. They took that and our lawyer repeatedly called asking for what the agreement would be and were told there would be no agreement. They said there wasn’t a financial hardship, it was mismanagement of personal income. OSSAA doesn’t talk to parents, they talk to their membership and then pass judgment on us.
Cleveland: did you see your documents turn up anywhere else? Davis: no.
Blackwell: when you asked for help in determining which school your son could be eligible at, what was the response? Davis: none.
Blackwell: I had a constituent of mine go through the appeals process. They were told that OSSAA said the legislature can’t do anything to them. Mr. Shakeley, you will have the opportunity at the next hearing to present some documents. If you don’t, a legislative investigation will result. (The requested documents are: all emails in Davis case, list of all those with financial hardships granted exemptions, financial info on sponsorships)