Bill would encourage high school athletic organizations to merge in Iowa

Iowa is the only state with separate boys and girls high school sports governing bodies. The Iowa High School Athletic Association and Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union were topics of discussion though Monday during an Iowa Senate subcommittee.

Republican Sen. Randy Feenstra filed Senate File 326, which would prohibit a school district from expending any moneys to pay dues or membership fees to the IHSAA or the IGHSAU after Jan. 1, 2022.

Basically Feenstra wanted to know what it would look like if the two organizations merged into one.

While the two athletic associations were the primary topic, the Iowa High School Music Association and Iowa High School Speech Association were also included in the conversation.

Alan Beste, the executive director of the IHSAA, said there’s been discussion over the years between the IHSAA and IGHSAU about becoming more efficient. The IHSAA houses the Iowa High School Music Association while the IGHSAU houses the Iowa High School Speech Association.

The IGHSAU employs 11 people while the IHSAA has 17 employees, three of which are staff members at the Iowa Hall of Pride.

Beste said the groups serve hundreds of schools, 15,000 athletic coaches, 7,000 athletic officials and a combined 75,000 student athletes.

Fees for the IHSAA are nonexistent, he said. The IGHSAU has a $50 fee.

Jean Berger of the IGHSAU said her concern with merging into one organization is the potential for girls sports to be ignored. The directors of the music and speech organizations talked as well about how well things currently work.

Feenstra said discussion is being had where people ponder why every other state has one organization but Iowa has two. And, he said, they wonder if there’s duplicity in the organizations.

Democrat Sen. Todd Taylor said he doesn’t see a problem. All four organizations said at national events Iowa is the envy of the country with its separate groups.

Republican Sen. Roby Smith asked if they’d get by with less employees as one group as opposed to two. There may be a few support staff members who wouldn’t make the cut in a merger, but it’d be limited at best.

The number of championships wouldn’t change, so the workload wouldn’t significantly be reduced.

Currently the IHSAA is located in Boone while the IGHSAU is in Des Moines. The legislators asked about being located under one roof. Beste said the IHSAA owns its building in Boone and has talked with the IGHSAU about moving when its current lease expires.

Smith voiced concern about the price of admission to athletic events. He said a family of five would be spending $25 two or three times a week going to games.

“You’re talking about thousands of dollars a family has to shell out beyond what they pay in property taxes to go watch their kids participate in sporting events,” he said. “Some of these families are low-income.”

Berger said booster passes were an option, but Smith said those only work half time time as road games require admission.

Smith asked Beste if his child was playing and it cost $50 would he pay to watch the game? And if admission were $100?

The point, Smith said, was parents will pay whatever necessary to watch and support their children.

“Extortion,” Smith said. “Something just seems wrong to me in the state of Iowa that we charge $5 for a kindergartner to go to the game. I’ve seen parents leave kids at home and those kids aren’t watching their sibling play basketball or football because they can’t afford to pay the bill. Something needs to be done about that.”

Feenstra thanked everyone for the conversation. no action was taken on the bill.