However, a sharply divided KHSAA board declined Friday to support the proposal, voting 9-7 to give a negative recommendation to the proposed change. There was one abstention.
The measure, known as proposal 20, passed 195-78, finishing with 11 more votes than the two-thirds needed for passage.
Delegates from 275 high schools attended last Thursday’s session. Seven schools were not represented.
Trigg County High School Athletic Director Taylor Sparks was among the delegates that voted for Prop 20.
“I took my vote very seriously and made it not to eliminate competition, but to create a level playing field for everyone,” Sparks said. “Some people might perceive it as a vote against University Heights or Owensboro Catholic, but there was no particular school involved. Public schools just aren’t allowed to do some of the things they are, and that’s what it was based on.”
Prop 20 had strong backing from the state's public school superintendents, who contended that private schools have an advantage because they have no enrollment boundaries and can offer financial aid. Public schools have certain limits.
Opponents argued that private schools are being unfairly targeted because of misinformation and unproven rumors of recruiting.
“If they offer tuition to students, it gives them an unfair advantage that we don’t have. What school they go to is a parental choice, but athletics is a privilege. A lot of the schools that voted for the proposal didn’t want to lose their kids to a private school that has them coming in from all directions,” Sparks said.
Of the 31 state championships offered last season by the KHSAA, 17 were won by private schools.
Fort Campbell and Fort Knox, the only two high schools in the nation located on military installations, were initially lumped in with the private schools, despite the fact they are federally funded. A floor vote passed before the vote on Prop 20 and took them off of the private school list.
Sparks agreed with that move.
“I think they were mislabeled, and I have no problem taking them off that list,” he said.
However, Sparks feels that the issue should never have come to a vote last week.
“My biggest disappointment is the KHSAA has allowed it to get to this point and required us to take this action. I hate that it got to this point,” Sparks said. “They have no field enforcers of the rules and things have happened that should have sent up red flags.”
However, Sparks said he hasn’t encountered any problems regarding recruiting in the past few years.
“I usually deal with the schools, and there have been instances where I’ve had to contact schools and the solution worked itself out or there was an explanation I accepted,” he said.
The proposal will now be sent to the state Board of Education without the KHSAA board's endorsement. The state board's next meeting is Dec. 7, and the proposal then would go out for public hearing, but it could be early next year before the board takes any action.
Then, if the board approves the proposal, it still would require legislative approval. And at any point, the proposal could face a court challenge.
The delegates passed another major measure, Proposal 3. It would bar students who live out of state from playing sports for Kentucky schools. The proposal, sponsored by Ashland athletic director Mark Swift, passed 189-75.
Sparks, who also voted for this measure, said he isn’t aware of any student-athletes at Trigg County who live in Tennessee and attend school here.
The board of control voted 10-6 to table Proposal 3 for further discussion at next month's meeting, pending a legal review of several issues of concern, as well as further study of an implementation timetable.
One issue they may be forced to consider is students at Fort Campbell, who actually live and attend school in Tennessee and whether the rule would apply to them.
Another proposal that passed was the limitation of seasons in basketball, which allows a more defined way of counting games. The new system, which drops the maximum number of games in a season from 24 to 23, allows schools to count any two tournaments in a season as two games.
Trigg County misinterpreted the rule at the end of the 2002 basketball season, causing them to play one game over the limit. Caldwell County turned them into the KHSAA, who ruled them ineligible for the postseason.
Sparks said the new proposal should eliminate any confusion in counting tournaments toward the number of games played in a season.
“Before, you had double elimination tournaments that counted as more games than a single elimination tournament. Now, all tournaments are counted as two games, regardless of length,” he said.
Sparks called the day of voting “stressful”, adding that the delegate assembly in attendance was the largest he had seen since becoming athletic director 11 years ago.
He also said school officials leave voting on the proposals up to him.
“I run things by them (principal Sharon Knight and superintendent of schools Tim McGinnis), but they don’t put any pressure on me to vote one way or the other,” Sparks said.