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FHSAA ponders uncertain future

Anticipating state legislation that will revamp the governance of high school athletics, Florida High School Activities Association leaders met Wednesday with a group of principals to discuss the future.

Among other things, the bill, now working its way through committees of both the state Senate and House of Representatives, effectively would mandate that the FHSAA replace its 33-member Board of Directors, which is dominated by principals of public high schools, with a 15-member board that includes four public school principals, four private school principals, two school superintendents, two school board members, the Commissioner of Education and two representatives appointed by the Commissioner of Education.

The principals who run the FHSAA, a nonprofit corporation that has organized high school athletics for 76 years, do not want to give up power so easily. They might even dissolve the organization, turning more than $1-million in assets over to charities.

"Some people in power positions feel principals should not wield the power we have," said board president Charles Bales, principal at Miami Springs High School. "The governance of athletics is at stake."

The FHSAA believes the bill's passage is a foregone conclusion.

The Florida Association of Secondary School Principals are asking the FHSAA to consider dissolution rather than surrender its assets to a new power structure.

"These funds have been earned, and if we are taken over, do they have the right to these assets?" asked Elaine Sullivan, president of the FASSP, FHSAA board member and principal at Hernando High School in Brooksville. "The amount does not matter _ it is the principle of the issue."

Sullivan and other administrators said, however, their allegiance remains with the students, and disbursing such a large amount of money earmarked for their benefit might be taking the issue too far.

"I think everybody has already accepted there will be a different governance," Sullivan said. "And if we don't give them the money, they will find their own money."

Advocates of the pending legislation believe it would make the FHSAA more responsive to the public and provide athletes with due process to appeal decisions. Along with restructuring the organization, the bill, sponsored in the Senate by Don Sullivan, R-Seminole, would allow athletes more freedom in retaining athletic eligibility as they change schools.

Current FHSAA leaders disagree with the changes.

"Activities and athletics are best in the hands of the people that do it every day," said Fred Goodwin, FHSAA vice president and principal at Panama City Bay. "How long will it take this fledgling group to perfect its organization?"

Principals fear one public school principal and one private school principal from each of four geographic areas will not provide adequate representation.

"The geographic inequity is obvious, if one private school principal is going to represent a geographic area," said Harry M. deMontmollin, headmaster of The Bolles School in Jacksonville. "And by their very nature, private schools don't like things imposed upon them by governments."

If the bill becomes law, the FHSAA might have trouble complying with it even if it wants to. By coincidence, the organization sent ballots to member school principals Monday with a series of amendments. Proposal 19 would grant the executive committee and commissioner the right to adjust the FHSAA bylaws to conform to state law, rather than forcing the organization to go through a cumbersome process of changing the bylaw. If it is rejected, the FHSAA might not be able to comply with state law.

"If the membership votes this amendment down _ which they may _ we have signed a death warrant for the FHSAA," Bales said.

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