George Pickup

GEORGE PICKUP

The Central DeWitt Community School Board joined other districts in requesting that the two Iowa high school athletic associations evaluate how schools are classified to address what board members and administrators view as inequities.

“The playing field is not level sometimes with private schools,” said George Pickup, Central DeWitt High School principal, at the school board’s regular May meeting. 

It is a concern voiced by public school administrators and activities directors throughout the state regarding the ability of private schools to attract athletes through open enrollment and scholarships. 

Those administrators and officials cite the increasing athletic dominance of private schools in state championships. 

“We know what it does for a school to get to the state level at any competition. It generates excitement and gets community involvement,” Pickup said during the discussion. The goal, he said, is to create equal opportunity, and the system needs to be modified to achieve that. 

The Central DeWitt board unanimously approved a resolution that was sent to the Iowa High School Athletic Association (IHSAA) and the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union (IGHSAU) asking them to convene a committee “to seriously evaluate

the competitive needs of students and schools in order to experience success and the inequities inherent in a system based solely on enrollment size without consideration of family and community capacity for support and make a recommendation to a joint board of both associations to resolve this issue in the 2019-2020 school year.”

The Clinton Community School Board passed a similar resolution earlier last month, calling for the athletic associations “to begin the process for modifications of how schools are classified for district and state tournament competitions.” 

The concern is one that has been voiced by schools across the state in regards to how enrollment is counted at public versus private schools, with many districts sending letters to the two agencies.

Chris Cuellar, communications director for Boone-based IHSAA, said the agency has received letters from schools located in parts of the state. 

“We know this is a concern our constituents and members have,” he said. 

The IHSAA’s classification committee, which convenes every two years, is set to meet this fall, he said. The issue will be on the agenda. The committee typically meets in September, but as the organization is getting a new executive director July, a date hasn’t been set yet, Cuellar said.

 The classification committee is made of 17 people — including superintendents, principals, athletic directors and IHSAA board members — representing five different geographic districts in the state. Fourteen members of the group represent public schools, while three represent private schools. Three of them represent 1A schools, five represent 2A schools, six represent 3A schools and three represent 4A schools.  

While the West Des Moines-based IGHSAU — which governs girls sports — does not have a classification committee, it is aware of the classification concerns and has ongoing discussions about the matter, said Gary Ross, associate director. 

“As things change and there’s a need to take a look, we [will] gather information for the board to discuss,” he said. While there are no plans to form a new committee, the organization’s board will discuss the letters and resolutions it receives. It also will be monitoring any action by the IHSAA, he said.

Central DeWitt and other schools will be watching the discussions closely. 

In explaining another issue related to classifications, Central DeWitt Activities Director Kurt Kreiter said that Central DeWitt has dropped athletic sharing agreements in the past with other schools because of the impact on classifications has on the school’s classification.

“If we get two girls soccer players here, we have to count their entire enrollment as far as which class we are in,” he said. On the other hand, that rule doesn’t apply to private schools where each athlete simply counts for one versus an entire enrollment.

“We’re not afraid to talk about it. It’s data driven, really,” Pickup said.