OSSAA Needs Public Oversight and a Little Common Sense

To The Editor: 

Tuesday, June 4, the Oklahoma Secondary Schools Activities Association (OSSAA) will rule on the eligibility appeal of David Cornwell, an incoming senior student-athlete from Norman North who is the consensus number one high school quarterback in the country. His list of schools recruiting him is voluminous.

The issue is whether Cornwell has already exhausted his four years of high school eligibility, since he was unable to complete a semester of school and football in fall 2011, because he made the decision to put family first and served as caregiver to his mother who was suffering from a debilitating four-month illness that could have claimed her life.

Cornwell, who was not even a major football prospect at the time, said that he made a decision based on what was best for his family. David chose his mother over football, and the OSSAA is now holding his senior year hostage.

This summer, along with Rep. Marty Quinn, R-Claremore, and Rep. Jason Murphey, R- Guthrie, we will conduct an interim legislative study to review how the OSSAA works and make recommendations to Speaker T.W. Shannon. I hear from student-athletes and parents weekly who have at-best received poor customer service and at-worst been treated with malice by this organization.

Why? Ego and unchecked power rule the day for this pseudo-government entity whose membership is “voluntary,” yet governs most Oklahoma high schools with an iron fist on issues related to athletics. OSSAA is classified as a 501c3 non-profit organization, but they derive millions from tournaments and fees from schools, who receive taxpayer dollars.

When public funds are implicated, there must be accountability and transparency. When the young people of this state are involved in athletics and other competitive activities, we must ensure fairness and access to an effective and expeditious review.

The historical conduct of the OSSAA has brought squarely into focus the need for a review and audit of its activities. Accordingly, I have requested that the State Auditor and inspector undertake this task. The public will be better able to track the money. I am hopeful the OSSAA leadership will cooperate.

As we have seen many times in the past few years, the OSSAA conducts its business without public oversight.

In David Cornwell’s case, the constitution of the OSSAA clearly states that “after the student has begun the ninth grade, an exception allowing a student the opportunity to participate in athletics in an additional semester…may only be granted upon sufficient proof that circumstances arose beyond the control of the student and the student's parents, such as a serious and debilitating injury or illness, which prevented the student from completing academic work necessary to advance to the next grade level.”

David is an incoming senior, since he lacks English credits to graduate due to his missed semester. The case is black and white, until reviewed under the OSSAA’s filter, which has not followed their own written guidelines. As a state representative elected by Oklahomans, this is very concerning.

Sincerely, Bobby Cleveland

Note: Cleveland represents House District 20 at the state Capitol. He is a Republican from Slaughterville.

Bobby Cleveland

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