OSSAA Moves Forward on Membership Issues

Assistant Publisher

ATHLETIC LEADERS: Gathered here at a July Tulsa Sports Charities luncheon, OSSAA members met to share issues concerning public and non-public school membership in the OSSAA. Photographed here at the TSC luncheon are, from left Chuck Perry, Union High School Athletic Director; Stan White, Lincoln Christian School Administrator; Willie George, Church on the Move Pastor; Stephanie Spring, Ph.D., Director of Athletics for Tulsa Public Schools and board president for the OSSAA executive board; and Ed Sheakley, Executive Director of the OSSAA.

DANIEL C. CAMERON for GTR Newspapers

The Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association has created a 17-member committee to solve the problem of non-public school membership in the association. The problem stems from concerns by a contingent of OSSAA members who argue that the non-public schools have competitive advantages over public schools.

The OSSAA began in 1911. It is a volunteer driven non-profit organization with 484 member schools paying dues. Member schools are high schools; their associated middle schools become members automatically. 20 of these member schools are private, two are Native American and two are government schools. A non-public school is any of these schools that is not a public school, such as private schools, government schools or Native American schools. To be OSSAA eligible for membership, all schools must be fully accredited by the Oklahoma State Board of Education.

Allegations of advantages non-public schools may have over public schools vary in range but mostly deal in issues concerning the capability of non-public schools to be selective of their students where public schools cannot. Recruitment is potentially unlimited for non-public schools, while public schools have their district boundaries. Tuition assistance can be provided in need-based situations in non-public schools and non-public schools are not required to limit their enrollment. Ed Sheakley, Executive Director of the OSSAA comments, “That’s the million dollar question: Are there advantages and if there are, do those advantages create an imbalance?”

It should be known that it is illegal for non-public schools to give athletic scholarships. The OSSAA requires full disclosure of member schools and inspects enrollment and financial records twice a year to ensure everyone abides by the rules.

The problem of whether or not non-public schools should be eligible for OSSAA membership is a lingering problem and the association is in full gear to quell the issue. “This is a very challenging issue,” says Stephanie Spring, Ph.D., and director of athletics for Tulsa Public Schools and OSSAA executive board president. And they intend on tackling it. The new 17-member committee has representation from every class, including public and private schools, magnet and charter schools, as well as one Native American school.

The OSSAA has put in a lot of work on this issue. Rule No. 9 deals with recruiting and it has been considerably reworked to level the recruiting field. Rule No. 23, the association’s newest rule, was written specifically to regulate non-public schools.
In the past, member schools voted for non-public school membership. But some schools were not being voted in and the OSSAA was sued. The board of directors attempted to change the rule to remedy the situation. Rule No. 23 was written to handle the remedy. The board decided to allow non-public schools to join without a vote. However, they had to abide by strict regulations or they lost their membership privileges. This did not work either.

Recently the issue has come to a head. A group of superintendents headed an effort to solve the problem as they became disgruntled over recent successes of some non-public schools, associating these successes to unfair advantages.
A number of models from other states were looked at and voted on by the board of directors. The first model was the Texas Plan. This plan would have put all of the non-public schools in 6A, potentially making huge disparities. Spring points out the problem with the Texas plan: “Imagine putting Corn Bible up against Jenks in football, they have 60 kids.” The Tennessee plan said that if a non-public school was receiving assistance, it would move up to class 6A. If not, it would move them up one class. A unique plan was devised specifically for Oklahoma. This plan would have moved all non-public schools up two classes. The board denied all these plans unanimously.

This is a very challenging issue, hence the new committee. Demonstrating the intricacies of the difficulty involved, Spring mentions, “all schools are different, that’s just life, we are not cookie cutters. Corn Bible is very different than Bishop Kelley, for instance.” She goes on to say the committee will weigh all factors before they make a decision. Ensuring that adding the committee is an effort to resolve the problem, and OSSAA is not rushing the process through, Sheakley adds, “there is no time table, we are going to get this right.”

To follow the process and read the OSSAA rules, visit www.ossaa.com.

Updated 07-30-2009

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