For a good five or six years over the past decade I have encouraged the state Legislature to reign in the power of the Utah High School Activities Association (UHSAA). Recently, and surprisingly, the State Board of Education had the same thought. The State Board proposed to end the control UHSAA has over school athletics by controlling the transfer process.
UHSAA has purview over all extracurricular activities in Utah schools – music, science, vocational programs and, of course, high school sports. For every other extracurricular activity a student is free to transfer to any other school to pursue those activities. But not if the student is an athlete. In fact, state law rules that any student can transfer to any school for no reason if the transfer school has space. But not if the student is an athlete.
UHSAA and so many of their peer special interest groups argue that sports programs are different. They argue that no school is a threat to become a powerhouse in its drama program or music program or chess club. But high schools can be known, are known for their sports programs – and that is simply unfair. Their fear is the idea of “megaschools” dominating a sports program and not fairly competing with smaller and rural schools.
The state school board eventually pulled its proposal from the table but advised UHSAA that they had 30 days to get their athletics policies in line with the state open enrollment law. And, of course, we know that is impossible. UHSAA never will comply.
It’s important to note that UHSAA is a private organization funded with public dollars. They have little to no transparency. Their meetings are private and off the record. Their justification for going dark is in the name of the children – they don’t want to put any child on the spot. But their justification doesn’t match their attitude. Their attitude is that they exist to protect the child from the child’s parents. They think most parents with kids in sports programs are overbearing and excessive.
Over the years I have fought legislative battles to undo UHSAA. It’s a tyrannical organization propped up by an erroneous perception of sports, children, and parents. I have argued to make UHSAA a public school entity. I have argued to force its policies to comply with state open enrollment laws. I have argued that UHSAA be audited. But as soon as I raise any concern about UHSAA, the whole of public education comes down on me. To this day, outside of clinging to its extreme idea of public education, I have no clue why the wagons circle so aggressively in support of a non-public school entity.
A big problem to overcome in the fight against UHSAA is that only people who have had to go against it really know how it works and how unjust its processes are. If you haven’t had a student athlete who has tried to transfer, you have no clue what the demeaning process is like. In fact, the current concerns raised by the State Board of Education are the result of at least two board members who have personally run afoul of UHSAA. These two board members now know how UHSAA operates and what power they wield inside public education. UHSAA simply responds that transferring student athletes is a bad idea, period. The coaches are the worst in support of UHSAA. Coaches don’t want any student athlete to transfer from their school – perhaps the most selfish thinking I’ve witnessed in education. They argue “it’s difficult to build team culture and identity when people are constantly moving in and out.” Really? Families moving in and out of school boundaries happens all of the time and school culture doesn’t seem to be affected one way or another.
It’s time to get rid of UHSAA. It’s time to treat student athletes with the trust, respect and honor granted every other public school student. Whether to move a student athlete from one school to another is his or her family’s decision, not some unelected, unaccountable, non-transparent bureaucrat. The Utah State School Board has the right idea. Now it just needs to follow through with it.