Florida lawmakers debate high school athletics

Few topics evoke passion like high school sports.

This morning, a House education subcommittee debated a bill that would impose new regulations on the Florida High School Athletic Association, the 92-year-old organization that governs high school sports. If the bill were to become law, the FHSAA would have to establish guidelines for its investigations and better regulate its investigators.

The bill, sponsored by Rep. Kelli Stargel, would also allow more children in private schools to participate in sports at public schools. Currently, the option is only available to children who attend small private schools that do not have sports programs.

Stargel, R-Lakeland, said the bill was intended to let students enjoy sports and their overall high school experience. “There are some problems with the current structure and this is one way to tackle them,” she said.

But FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing said the proposal would give the upper hand to private-school athletes, who would now be able to “play multiple sports at multiple schools.”

Rep. Dwight Bullard, D-Miami, agreed.

“If you have a public high school that doesn’t offer lacrosse, those students are not allowed to transfer to another school in the district to play their game,” Bullard said. “They have to deal with the fact that their high school does not offer that particular sport.”

The bill passed with four Democrats voting against.

The debate got even more heated a day earlier, when the Senate Education Committee heard a bill that would allow all private, charter and virtual schools to become members of the Sunshine Independent Athletic Association. The SIAA, which currently consists of a dozen independent schools and is not recognized in state statute, would essentially have the same authority of the FSHAA.

Sen. Stephen Wise, the bill’s sponsor, said the proposal would break up the monopoly the FHSAA has on high school athletics.

Said Sen. Ellyn Bogdanoff, R-Fort Lauderdale: “Competition is probably a good thing I suspect if we allowed all public schools the option of a second choice, many of them would take it. Many people are frustrated with the system.”

But Dearing, of the FHSAA, expressed concern. “If charter schools go to this association, somebody better make sure they are adhering to Title IX rules and statutes,” he said.

The bill passed through the committee 4-1.

The lone dissenting vote came from Sen. Bill Montford, D-Tallahassee, who is also chief executive officer of the Florida Association of District School Superintendents.

Said Montford: “It is my understanding that the new group would not want to follow the old rules.”