- Associated Press - Tuesday, February 16, 2016

MADISON, Wis. (AP) - Assembly Republicans were poised to pass a bill Tuesday that would force Wisconsin’s high school athletics association to comply with the state’s open records and meetings laws, a move the measure’s author says might have helped avoid an embarrassing episode with sports commentators and pundits last month.

The Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association drew widespread ridicule last month over an email it sent to school administrators in December asking administrators to crack down on unsportsmanlike fan taunts and cheers, including popular chants such as “air ball” and “scoreboard.”

The issue rose to prominence after a northern Wisconsin high school basketball player was suspended for a profane tweet about the policy. Sports media outlets, pundits and fans began mocking the WIAA’s policy as coddling and overprotective. Sports Illustrated wrote that “The ‘W’ in WIAA technically stands for ‘Wisconsin’ but it should really stand for ‘Whining.’”

WIAA guidelines in place for years call for spectators to participate only in positive, uplifting cheers. WIAA officials say the guidelines are meant to help schools identify behavior that can lead to fights and online bullying.

The bill’s author, Rep. John Nygren, R-Marinette, contends that more insight and input into the WIAA’s policy-making procedures might have helped avoid the entire situation.

WIAA officials have countered that the organization is a private, nonprofit association and receives no public funding. WIAA Executive Director Dave Anderson has called the legislation a knee-jerk response to a media firestorm.

Nygren, though, has insisted the WIAA is essentially a quasi-governmental agency since school boards delegate the power to regulate sporting events to the organization and its events are held in or at high school facilities built and maintained at taxpayers’ expense.

“Because of this, I believe the documents and meetings that craft the rules and policies, which greatly impact student athletes, referees, school administrators, and many others should be open to public scrutiny,” Nygren said in written remarks submitted to the Assembly Committee on State Affairs.

The WIAA is the only organization registered against the bill, according to state Government Accountability Board records. The Wisconsin Newspaper Association is the only group registered in support.

The Assembly was set to take up the bill during a floor session that began at 1 p.m. Tuesday. It was unclear when debate would begin and when the chamber would vote, however; the agenda was jammed with more than 100 bills. Assembly Speaker Robin Vos has said he wants the body to wrap up its work for the two-year legislative session on Thursday and lawmakers have been scrambling to get their favorite proposals to a vote.

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Follow Todd Richmond on Twitter at https://twitter.com/trichmond1

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