Records Demanded on High School Sports

     CHICAGO (CN) – A government watchdog claims that the Illinois High School Association, which oversees the state’s high school sports, is a public entity, and so must respond to FOIA requests for its contracts with Nike, Gatorade, and Country Financial.
     The Better Government Association sued the Illinois High School Association (IHSA), and Consolidated High School District 230, on Wednesday in Cook County Court.
     The IHSA is a nonprofit organization through which Illinois high schools organize interscholastic athletic competitions. Of the state’s 811 high schools, 793 are members. The organization’s executive director is paid more than $200,000 per year.
     The IHSA refused to reply to the Better Government Association’s Freedom of Information Act requests, which sought IHSA’s and School District 230’s contracts for accounting, legal, sponsorship, and public relations/crisis communications services for the past two years, particularly IHSA’s contracts with Nike, Gatorade, and Country Financial.
     IHSA claimed that it is not a public entity: “We are a Bloomington-based nonprofit (501-c-3) that is not subject to the FOIA,” the denial letter stated.
     But in a 2003 defamation lawsuit, the organization claimed exactly the opposite, and sought governmental immunity, according to the new lawsuit.
     IHSA argued then that it was a “local public entity” based on “the character and association of its membership,” and that it was “organized for the purpose of conducting public business.”
     The IHSA argued then stated that “(I)nsofar as every resident of the State of Illinois is in a high school district, and the overwhelming majority of high school students in the state attend member schools… there can be little doubt that the business of the association is public business.”
     In that case, the court did not reach the merits of IHSA’s assertion that it is a public entity.
     But “IHSA is held to the litany of factual statements in [the 2003 case] that make clear IHSA is a public body,” the complaint states.
     The Better Government Association seeks a declaration that IHSA is a public entity subject to the FOIA, and that the records it seeks are non-exempt public records.
     It also asked the court to order IHSA and District 230 to pay a civil penalty of $2,500 to $5,000 for each willful violation of the FOIA.
     It is represented by Matthew Topic with Loevy & Loevy.

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