Okla. lawmakers seek more school sports oversight

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OKLAHOMA CITY (AP) - The organization that oversees tens of thousands of Oklahoma high school athletes and participants in other extracurricular activities should face stricter legislative oversight, three Republican House members said Monday.

The legislators announced plans to introduce several bills during the legislative session that begins next week that target the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association. One of the bills would subject the association to the state’s Open Records and Open Meetings laws, and give the Legislature the authority to accept or reject agency rules.

“We do think administrative oversight … would be some way to allow legislators to keep an eye on what’s going on without having heavy-handed pressure,” said Rep. Gus Blackwell, R-Lavern.

The OSSAA oversees extracurricular activities for nearly every public school in Oklahoma for grades seven through 12, including the makeup of athletic districts, playoffs and student transfers and eligibility, among other things. It is governed by a 14-member board of mostly school principals and superintendents and had an annual operating budget last year of $5.4 million.

A spokeswoman for the association did not immediately respond to a request for comment, but the agency’s executive director has said he doesn’t believe legislation is necessary to address most of the lawmakers’ concerns. Director Ed Sheakley said it’s also not uncommon for his organization to be the target of complaints because many of the decisions it makes on eligibility and transfers are emotionally charged.

Blackwell hosted a series of legislative hearings on the association and its finances during the legislative interim, and listened to numerous complaints from coaches and parents of student-athletes about the OSSAA.

The Oklahoma Supreme Court also has been critical of OSSAA and issued a ruling last year in which it determined the association acted in an arbitrary and capricious manner in its handling of a high school football player’s case. The court also noted because of the quasi-public nature of the association, more scrutiny of its operations were warranted.

Reps. Bobby Cleveland, R-Slaughterville, and Jason Murphey, R-Guthrie, also said they planned to sponsor OSSAA-related measures during the upcoming legislative session that begins next week.

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Sean Murphy can be reached at https://twitter.com/apseanmurphy

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