An Open Letter To IHSSCA: Change Is Coming

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Joe Trost, columnist for #PrepSportsReport

November 13, 2019

To: Illinois High School Soccer Coaches Association (IHSSCA) President Brian Papa (retired teacher)

CC: Board members – Joe Moreau (Neuqua Valley teacher); Scott Steib (Barrington teacher), Seong Ha (Glenbrook South teacher), Barry Jacobson (retired teacher), Norm Hillner (retired teacher)

Gentlemen,

I hope you are all well, and I thank you for everything you have done and will continue to do to help high school student athletes on and off the field.

As I know from being honored four times as your statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year, you try to do your best to recognize coaches, student athletes and those making a difference in the sport of high school soccer. I still remember the first time former president Jim Lindbloom presented me with the statewide media award.

I was truly honored.

Since then, I’ve supported your organization whenever I could, because I knew it was a chance to spotlight student athletes from all different parts of Illinois.

As Brian will recall, coaches used to send me the score sheets from the all-sectional meetings, showing how high school coaches were blackballing programs and screwing student athletes at times. I ran the score sheets in my columns years ago, because some of the voting was asinine and that led to the IHSSCA reforming its nominating and voting system.

One thing, however, you as a board continually dodge is this basic question the entire state is talking about: Why is there a fee associated with a student athlete being able to earn all-sectional, all-state, All-Midwest or All-America honors?

Correct me if I’m wrong, but if a student athlete works hard on the soccer field, the only way a coach can help his or her student athlete receive that hard-earned honor through the IHSSCA and National High School Soccer Coaches Association (NHSSCA) is to pay a fee to the IHSSCA.

If the coach doesn’t pay the annual initiation fee, the student athlete has no chance for those honors.

Imagine earning an ‘A’ in the classroom with your hard work, but the only way the teacher can give you an ‘A’ is if your parent paid a fee to the school board.

Stop and think about that for a second.

Let me remind you that no other high school sport in Illinois has a pay-to-play scheme like this when it comes to local and national honors that drive exposure for possible college scholarships.

As I’m sure you are well aware of, I’ve written about this as a reporter at the Chicago Sun-Times, then at the Chicago Tribune and even during my time with ESPN.com. (If you forgot, here are a couple of those columns: Click here for one, then here for two, here for three and hey why not, here’s a fourth, too.)

On Thursday night, you’ll once again sit high above everyone else at the Diplomat West in Elmhurst for the annual boys soccer awards banquet. Everyone else below you will not only have paid a fee to earn all-sectional, all-state, All-Midwest or All-America honors, but they’ll also have paid again to come to the banquet to get that award.

Everyone has to “pay at the door at the banquet, $35 CASH ONLY.” And if you’re late, make it $45 CASH ONLY.

Having created and ran an awards banquet or two in my day, I feel very comfortable talking on this subject.

First, we kept the cost to $10 a student athlete and provided free dinners to nearly 50 of the honorees. As Brian and many coaches who attended will tell you, those standing room-only banquets of 800-1,000 people each spring and fall were nights people still talk about today. It was a celebration of soccer, nothing based around pay-to-play fees.

And you know how much was made off of those banquets?

$0.

You know how much I got paid for the creation and running those banquets?

$0.

I have no problem with your board being paid. I have no problem with you charging for the banquet. I have no problem with you charging a membership fee for your coaches association.

But I, and many others throughout Illinois, have a major issue with your pay-to-play scheme that forces high school soccer coaches to pay a fee in order for a student athlete to receive an honor they worked hard for on the field. (On Thursday before your banquet, you’ll read a story full of quotes from players and parents who will be attending your banquet talking about the pay-to-play scheme.)

Each year, there are conferences which host their all-conference meeting before the all-sectional meeting. And each year, there are coaches who get up and leave after the all-conference meeting, because they refuse to pay a fee to you so their player can have a shot at an honor they earned on the field.

What’s even more crazy when you think about it is that you try to drive more revenue in a unique way. The more coaches that sign up in a section, the more all-state players that section will get. Let’s not worry that then some student athletes will earn an honor they truly don’t deserve, but that’s the carrot driving more coaches to sign up and that drives revenue.

Don’t let the truth get in the way of the facts.

Hey coaches, you get more coaches to sign up in your section and then you get more all-state spots. Doesn’t mean your section actually deserves more (example: Chicago Public Schools girls section in recent years), but if your section drives more revenue – we’ll give you more awards.

You either pay or you’re blocked from local sectional and state awards along with national All-Midwest and All-America honors.

It’s wrong, and the perception is just awful – period.

It’s almost as bad as the fact between 1969-1990, you basically had a new president every year. But since 1990, only Barry, Jim, Norm, Joe and Brian have been president. Five presidents in 30 years compared to 18 different people between 1969-1989.

By the way, you haven’t had a single female president once since 1969 – a span of six decades.

Mercy, and I thought the pay-to-play was a bad perception for the good ole’ boys club.

Can’t wait for the spring girls banquet when nearly 1,000 girls and their mothers are looking at you wondering why there’s never been a female president or board member now sitting high above with you guys at the banquet.

Don’t get mad at me. As a four-time award winner of your organization, I’ve only been trying to help and tell you this is a major perception issue for years now.

Suck it up buttercups, it’s time for change.

Do what’s right,

Joe

CornerKICKS normally appears on Sundays. Contact Joe Trost at joetrost@gmail.com.

Bio on columnist: Joe Trost is an award-winning writer: STAR Newspapers, Chicago Sun-Times, Chicago Tribune and ESPN.com. Locally, he is a four-time statewide IHSSCA Media Person of the Year; founder of the PepsiCo Showdown, the largest high school sports series in the U.S.; and board member for Buddy’s HELPERS, which engages and educates student athletes about Making A Difference On AND Off The Field.

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