Lawmakers take aim at Georgia school sports association

House Rules Committee Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

House Rules Committee Chairman John Meadows, R-Calhoun. BOB ANDRES / BANDRES@AJC.COM

Age is no guarantee of respect under the Gold Dome, at least for the premier sports authority in Georgia high schools.

The General Assembly is pushing two bills that would set up an alternative to the 109-year-old governing body for school athletics, the Georgia High School Association, and its 56-member board.

“I don’t think any of them know what they’re job is,” complained one of the most powerful legislators in Georgia, Rep. John Meadows, R-Calhoun. The chairman of the House Rules Committee said he gets more complaints about the GHSA -- from schools, from referees, from coaches and from parents -- than about everything else put together, “and basically I’m sick of it.”

So he introduced House Bill 415, which quickly passed through that chamber’s education committee Monday. Next stop, Meadow’s Rules Committee that  could send the bill to the House floor for a vote.

Senate Bill 203, which is identical, is working its way through the other chamber, in a vice-like squeeze that leaves GHSA little room to maneuver.

The bills call on the state board of education to designate a new nonprofit as a state agency governing high school athletics. It would be open to both public and private schools and would have a governing board about a quarter the size of the GHSA board.

This isn't the first time lawmakers have taken aim at the GHSA, complaining about the money it takes in and the costs of attending sporting events that leave some kids outside the stands. Last year, the General Assembly took aim at GHSA over its policies for religious expression on uniforms and an exclusion private schools.

The organization recognizes the seriousness of the situation. The trustees held an emergency meeting Monday morning, just before the hearing, Jay Russell, the assistant executive director, testified. Gary Phillips, selected as executive director in 2014, will retire at the end of the school year, Russell said.

“I don’t know if that will influence the vote at all, but I wanted you to have this information,” Russell told the lawmakers.

It had no discernible effect. The bill passed easily out of the committee, with one “no” vote.

Meadows described his bill as a “stick” and said he won’t hit GHSA with it if he sees “progress” on some of the issues he raised, which include costs, financial transparency and making parents drive all over the state for games.