The St. Teresa cross country team's four straight state titles weren't the reason for the IHSA's controversial new “success advancement component,” but few programs in any class and in any part of the state will feel its brunt harder.
The IHSA Board passed a recommendation last month establishing a points system to determine whether a school receives a multiplier waiver and added a success advancement step that moves schools up a class after certain levels of success.
St. Teresa had two sports affected by the success advancement factor. Volleyball, which made state in Class 2A in 2010 and 2011, will be moved up to Class 3A next year. As long as St. Teresa doesn't make state next season, the Bulldogs will drop back down after one year.
Cross country, which has won state in Class 1A the last four years, will be moved up to Class 2A the next three years. As long as the Bulldogs don't collect any more state trophies, they'll drop back down after three years.
The ruling prompted St. Teresa principal/CEO Ken Hendriksen to release a statement condemning the ruling.
“Never throughout my career have I tried try to impose a 'success advancement step' on students achieving academically,” Hendriksen said. “In fact, we've always celebrated and championed successful students and their accomplishments.”
The IHSA Board of Directors approved the new rule unanimously. Maroa-Forsyth principal Scott Adreon, a member of the IHSA Board, recently emailed Hendriksen with stats from the state cross country meet that show the St. Teresa cross country team would have been competitive at the Class 2A level during the last three seasons.
The email from Adreon was shared by Hendriksen with the Herald & Review and read, in part:
“I understand your position and truly don't want any ill-will between us or our two schools. … This wasn't a decision I based on St. T, but one based on the schools in the district I represent.
“... not only would St. Teresa’s girls’ cross-country team have competed at the 2A state level, those teams would have likely placed each year and even had a good chance to win the 2A state title in three of the four years.”
St. Teresa athletic director and cross country coach Todd Vohland responded to Adreon's email, mapping out reasons why he felt the new rule was not only unfair to St. Teresa, but to all private schools.
The email -- shared by Hendriksen -- read, in part:
“What this decision says is that if you are a public school then you earned your success, and if you aren't then you obviously cheated somehow. I'm not going to apologize or feel bad because our girls achieved so much. They should be celebrated not made to feel that they don't deserve what they earned or somehow did something unethical or illegal.
“In the attachment to your email you compare our times to the 2A meet, and that is fine and we are very proud of how well we ran. But here is the problem, THOSE KIDS ARE GONE.
“We have had a nice run of kids, that's what happens in small schools, and we ARE a small school. Students don't shell out $6500 per year to come and run at a cross country factory. The runners we have were coming to St.T no matter what, more than a couple had no cross country background.
“I keep hearing of the advantages we have over public schools because of our 30 mile radius. But what if we aren't using that??? What is the advantage then?!?!”
In an interview with the H&R, Adreon said he understands why St. Teresa feels the ruling is unfair, but also sees the value of the rule.
“When you look at St. Teresa's 30-mile radius compared to some other non-boundaried schools, and look at their enrollment where 95 percent of their students went to their parochial junior highs -- yeah, that's a tough pill to swallow,” Adreon said.
“But being able to pull students from a 30-mile radius is a competitive advantage. You don't think that Rochester would have more students if they could pull students in from a 30-mile radius?
“We have people come to us and say, 'We want to our kid to play football at your school.' We tell them they have to move into the district, and they'll say, 'Oh, well, we own a farm. We're not going to move.' The thing is, it's easier to plop down tuition than uproot your family and move.”
Adreon said while a family can pay tuition to have their child attend a school district they don't live in, they're not eligible to play sports unless they live in the district.
Hendriksen suggested a potential compromise in his original statement after the ruling -- a population algorithm formula -- that would take into account that the population within a 30-mile radius in Chicago is much more dense than in downstate Illinois.
Adreon said he would be in favor of considering the population algorithm.
“I empathize with them -- the 30-mile radius here is not the same as in the heart of Chicago,” Adreon said. “I would support that. But that wasn't on the proposal that was submitted to the board.”
Other side of the coin
While St. Teresa took a hit in cross country and volleyball, several of its other programs will directly benefit from the new waiver points system.
Previously, any team that had won a sectional, two or more regionals, finished second or third in the sectional two or more times (track and field only) or won a first-round playoff game (football only) in the last six years was subject to the multiplier. Under the new rule, only teams that have made state or accumulated four or more points (regional and sectional titles each count as a point) in a four-year period are subject to the multiplier.
That means St. Teresa -- barring a significant increase in enrollment -- will likely be Class 1A in boys and girls basketball, and baseball and softball next year. St. Teresa's enrollment this year was 276. The cutoffs in boys and girls basketball this year were 289, and in baseball and softball 295.
In football, any team that has won a playoff game the last four years is subject to the multiplier. St. Teresa won one in 2010, so the Bulldogs will be in 3A if they make the playoffs again next year. But if they go one more year without a playoff win, they would lose the multiplier and drop to Class 1A. This year, the largest Class 1A team was 318.
There have been a handful of newspaper editorials around the state condemning the success factor ruling. Some St. Teresa students formed a web site -- fightthebump.org -- that includes a video criticizing the rule and an online petition that has more than 1,000 digital signatures according to the Twitter account @FightTheBump.org.
The web site also lists the email addresses of the 15 members of the ad-hoc committee, including committee members Randy Moss (Monticello athletic director) and Jim Dunnan (Washington principal).
Both said they've received a couple of emails, but no more. Adreon said other than his exchanges with Hendrisksen and Vohland, he hasn't heard much feedback, either.
“What people have to realize is it's a 15-person committee, and when your non-boundaried representatives from the Chicago area say there's a problem there, you listen to them,” Moss said. “You come up with a consensus, then it's up to the IHSA to say yay or nay.”
Moss' two cents
While Moss went along with the committee's consensus to recommend the success factor that the IHSA voted in, he said his idea on fixing the public/private school issue is radically different.
"Let's have open enrollment, and if they want to recruit, let them recruit," Moss said.
Open enrollment would mean any student could attend any school they choose. Moss said he would govern it so that if a family lived within a certain district, their children could go to school free there. But if they wanted to send their children to a school outside the district or to a private school, they could pay to do so and their children would still be eligible to play sports there.
"That would eliminate all this stuff," Moss said. "If a parent wants to send their kid to a certain school, they should be able to do it."
Moss said he realizes his viewpoint probably doesn't have much support.
"It's way out there -- probably not a lot of people think of it that way," Moss said. "I'm from the old school -- I never thought we should have a multiplier. I never thought we should have as many classes as we do. Two was fine in boys basketball. Why do we need four?"