The Illinois High School Association said Wednesday it was against a recently filed Illinois Senate bill which would allow a student-athlete to play in a football game without having participated in the IHSA's mandated 12 practices if the player had been in military training.
The bill was filed by Illinois State Senator Shane Cultra on Jan. 11 as a response to an IHSA ruling in August that prevented Paxton-Buckley-Loda High School senior Eddie Nuss from playing in his team's season opener because he was unable to attend the mandated preseason practices because he had been in military training in Fort Benning, Ga.
"This is very dangerous and counterproductive legislation," IHSA executive director Marty Hickman said in a statement. "First and foremost, this is an issue of student health and safety, not an issue of patriotism. We all applaud and support young people who choose to serve our country. However, deferring this decision to a school board, which, generally speaking, has no medical training, is irresponsible at best.
"While students who receive military training will have some level of conditioning, they are not in football playing condition as defined by medical professionals. Our Sports Medicine Advisory Committee has consistently maintained that all students need to have 12 days of football practice prior to participating in an interscholastic football game."
The IHSA is urging its member schools and communities to speak out against the bill. The Illinois Athletic Trainers Association, the Illinois Athletic Directors Association and the IHSA Sports Medicine Advisory Committee have also joined the IHSA in opposing Senate Bill 2550.
"Our committee has the training and background to make that judgment," Hickman said. "Their decision is supported by research and not fueled by emotion. More importantly, research tells us that heat illnesses are preventable. When you take into account all the positive steps forward that sports organizations around the world have made for athlete safety over the past decade, this bill would be a significant step backward for high school students in Illinois."
Cultra disagreed when he filed Senate Bill 2550 earlier this month. His bill would give local school boards the opportunity to award military sport waivers and also provide coaches, athletic directors, schools, school boards and school districts immunity from any liability after granting the waiver.
"Last fall, we had a case of an overactive bureaucracy at the IHSA," Cultra said in a statement. "Essentially, they penalized a three-letter sport athlete for enlisting in the military. Quite frankly, this is absurd; this individual successfully completed basic training, is fit enough to defend our nation, but somehow is unfit for football?
"The IHSA took an approach that, in my opinion, discriminated against a young man who decided to serve his nation. One would hope that the IHSA takes a serious look at this policy, before they taint yet another football season or volleyball season for a young person who chose to enlist."
The bill is currently assigned to the Senate Committee on Assignments.
Scott Powers covers high school and college sports for ESPNChicago.com and can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org.