From Go Upstate
COLUMBIA -- An Upstate lawmaker has proposed the state education department oversee the South Carolina High School League, but a department spokeswoman says it has no interest in running high school athletics.
And league executive director Ronnie Matthews said the education department has enough to worry about with the state's budget crisis.
But Sen. Mike Fair, R-Greenville, thinks a recent lawsuit involving the league's decision to leave two football teams out of the playoffs will help get his bill passed this year.
Marlboro County and Northwestern high schools eventually dropped their suits against the league, which operates as its own entity under executive committee. The teams were banned after a brawl following a Sept. 13 game.
But before the suit was dropped, a judge ruled the league is a public body and violated the Freedom of Information Act by holding the appeals for both schools behind closed doors.
Fair thinks the lawsuits will garner more support for his bill, saying the proposal "has a better chance this year than it did last year because of the heavy-handed way in which (the high school league) dealt with the situation with Northwestern and Marlboro County."
Northwestern and Marlboro County are traditional football powerhouses.
"I really feel the high school league, even though I've had times that I've agreed to disagree with them, they are almost a total entity unto themselves," Rep. Mike Anthony, D-Union, said. "I don't think we would have wanted a group of people who were not involved in athletics to make a decision on Northwestern and Marlboro County. I'm totally against this."
Anthony, who was elected last fall, is the head football coach at Union High School.
"I think we've got to sit down together and look at the positives that the high school league has done. We need to have a governing body there, and they've done a good job for many years," Anthony said. "I'm sympathetic to Mike's request, and I think there is room for compromise."
The education department will actively oppose Fair's legislation, said Molly Spearman, deputy superintendent for governmental affairs.
"We do not want the High School League under the state Department of Education," Spearman said. "Our platter is full with plenty of other things."
"That's been debated back and forth," Rep. Bob Walker, R-Landrum, said. "There are pros and cons to it. The pros are, yes everything would be under the Department of Education. But, the High School League is not an entity of the state department but of the people that join it."
The 2001-02 SCHSL membership numbered 197 high schools and 180 junior high and middle schools. Members pay yearly dues, ranging from $200 (1A) to $600 (4A), according to the league constitution.
But Fair said the league has been slow to respond to constituents in recent years.
"I first got in a conversation with the department a number of years ago in regard to letting home schoolers participate and I learned the sort of power -- the sort of absolute power -- that the High School League has," he said.
Matthews said the issue of allowing home-schooled children to participate in high school athletics is a debate that's been around for some time.
"It just hasn't had a lot of support in the Legislature," Matthews said. "It doesn't surprise me that it's still an issue in our current political climate. Our membership right now is in opposition to home schoolers participating."