IHSA Boys Gymnastics & Debate State Series Discontinued After Falling Below Participation Requirements


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IHSA Boys Gymnastics & Debate State Series Discontinued After Falling Below Participation Requirements

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The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) Board of Directors met for its regularly scheduled meeting at the IHSA office in Bloomington on Monday, June 12, 2023, where the Board voted to discontinue the IHSA Boys Gymnastics State Series and the IHSA Debate State Series per IHSA Policy 14, which states that a sport or activity State Series tournament will no longer be held when the “state series has less than seven percent (7%) of member schools entering a team.”

“This was a difficult decision that comes after significant discussion and a diligent review of historic data and participation trends,” said IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson. “After years of decline in participation, boys gymnastics and debate no longer meet the threshold required by IHSA Policy to conduct a State Series. Boys gymnastics and debate both dipped below seven percent several years ago, and to our Board of Director’s credit, they provided a grace period in hopes that both might experience a rejuvenation after the pandemic, but unfortunately, that has not occurred at a level that allows either to meet the Policy.”

The first IHSA Debate State Finals were held in 1941, while the Boys Gymnastics State Finals debuted during the 1951-1952 school year.

“It is important to note that the conclusion of the IHSA State Series in boys gymnastics and debate does not equate to the elimination of either sport or activity at the high school level in Illinois,” said Anderson. “Many schools have committed to continuing their programs regardless of whether the IHSA administers the state tournament. We anticipate the coaches will organize a state tournament moving forward, which is common in sports and activities that are not administered by the IHSA, such as field hockey and ice hockey.”

Since 2000, boys gymnastics has averaged just over 50 schools participating in the IHSA State Series each year, but that number shrank to 46 teams in 2022 and 40 teams in 2023. The modern era of the sport peaked at 79 participating schools in 1977. Debate saw 39 schools participate in the 2021-22 State Series after averaging 49 schools the past 13 years. The IHSA currently has 817 member high schools.

“As difficult as a decision like this is, it is equally challenging to conduct a ‘state tournament’ when such a small percentage of member schools are represented,” said Rockridge High School Principal and IHSA Board of Directors President Katy Hasson. “The IHSA staff is modest in size relative to the offerings the Association provides, and the Board must be forward-thinking in determining how to best serve our member schools, both now and in the future. It is our expectation that the reallocation of time and resources will ultimately create more participation opportunities for high school students in Illinois.”

The IHSA has added five sports (cheerleading, dance, boys lacrosse, girls lacrosse, girls wrestling) and two activities (bass fishing, esports) since 2006. Based on consistent growth recently, girls flag football is expected to debut as an IHSA State Series in the near future, while the Playoffs and State Championships in eight-player football are also expected to fall under the IHSA’s oversight soon.

“There is undoubtedly a level of disappointment that we feel for the impacted students and coaches,” said Anderson. “Yet, we also recognize that we must adapt in order to provide opportunities for as many students as possible. We reflect with great pride and appreciation for all that was accomplished during these chapters when the IHSA oversaw the boys gymnastics and debate state tournaments.”

New Trier High School captured the inaugural IHSA boys gymnastics team state championship in 1952, while Lake Park won the 2023 edition. Hinsdale Central won more IHSA team titles than any other school (9) during the time in between, including four in a row from 1970 to 1973. The IHSA has crowned a litany of individual state champions through the years, including the most famous alum of the sport, two-time (1973, 1974) All-Around State Champion Bart Conner of Niles West who went on to win two Olympic gold medals for Team USA.

Debate evolved from a duo of students competing in the Policy Debate category to include a Lincoln & Douglas Debate category in 1986, a Congressional Debate category in 2002, and a Public Forum Debate category in 2005.

The IHSA’s first-ever debate state champions are unknown, but the 1941 winners were students at what was then Wheaton High School. New Trier alum Danny Parkins, a host on WSCR radio in Chicago, partnered with William Peregrine to win the inaugural Public Forum Debate state title in 2005.

The sports of Girls Archery and Girls Field Hockey were the last IHSA State Series’ to be discontinued due to low participation, having occurred in 1980 and 1982, respectively.

1. The Board approved a recommendation to add and edit multiple illustrations in the IHSA Handbook based upon the by-law changes approved by the member schools in December that will take affect on July 1. The updates to the IHSA Handbook can be found here.

2. The Board approved a recommendation to update the IHSA’s Transgender Policy based upon a new Illinois law related to birth certificates that was passed in March. The updates to the IHSA Transgender Policy can be found here.

3. The Board approved a recommendation to form a new IHSA advisory committee whose aim will be to share perspective between public schools and non-boundaried schools in hopes of shaping future IHSA policy and rules that provides greater equity to both.

4. The Board approved a 10-year renewal of its ball contract with Wilson Sporting Goods. Wilson will remain the official ball of IHSA Baseball, Basketball, Football, Golf, Soccer, Softball, Tennis, and Volleyball.

Minutes from all Advisory Committees can be viewed by clicking here.

1. The Board approved the consent items from the Advisory Committees in the following sports & activities: Basketball, Bowling, Cheerleading, Chess, Dance, Esports, Gymnastics, Journalism, Music, Officials, Scholastic Bowl, Soccer, Speech, Sportsmanship, Sports Medicine, Student Advisory Committee, Swimming & Diving, and Wrestling.

Consent items are recommendations that received approval from the sport/activity advisory committee, the Athletic Administrators Advisory Committee and the IHSA staff. Consent items can be viewed by clicking here.

Non-consent items are recommendations from sport or activity committees that did not receive a majority vote from the Athletic Advisory Committee or IHSA staff.

Consent Items of note include:
Sports Medicine Advisory Committee:
1. All IHSA coaches are required to complete CPR/AED training from a school district-recognized provider. A “recognized provider” is one whose curriculum is similar to the American Red Cross and American Heart Association. New coaches must complete the course during his/her first year of coaching. At no time may a team practice, travel, or compete without at least one adult present who has met this requirement.

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson:
“The events surrounding Damar Hamlin’s resuscitation after suffering cardiac arrest during an NFL game last season reinforced the importance of individuals being educated in life-saving measures like CPR. We recognize there will be some commitment of time and resources from IHSA schools to help bring their coaching staffs into compliance with this new Policy, but know it is well worth it if even one life can be saved as a result.”

Boys & Girls Soccer
1. The IHSA will conduct the State Finals for all three classes on a single weekend and begin the State Finals on Thursday. Previously, the Class 1A State Finals were held on their own weekend, with Class 2A and Class 3A combined on the following weekend. This change will begin in the 2023-24 school year (boys in the fall and girls in the spring).  Hoffman Estates High School will serve as the State Final host for Boys Soccer and North Central College in Naperville for Girls Soccer. This recommendation came via the IHSA Soccer Advisory Committee and had support from the IHSA Athletic Administrators Committee and staff, but was included as a non-consent item to the Board based on it being a significant change.

5:00 pm           1A Semifinal #1
7:00 pm           1A Semifinal #2

11:00 AM        1A Third-Place
1:00 PM           2A Semifinal #1          
3:00 PM           2A Semifinal #2          
5:00 PM           3A Semifinal #1
7:00 PM           3A Semifinal #2

10:00 AM        2A Third-Place
11:45 AM        3A Third-Place
2:30 PM           1A State Championship
4:30 PM           2A State Championship
6:30 PM           3A State Championship

IHSA Executive Director Craig Anderson:
“We are excited about this change and believe it will create a high school soccer celebration in the state by putting all three classes on a singular state final stage. This is similar to the concept that occurred with the IHSA Basketball State Finals three years ago, which we feel like has been an overwhelming success.”

Boys & Girls Swimming & Diving
1. Team points and medals will now be awarded to all finishers through 16th place. Previously, medalists and points were awarded through 12th place.

Girls Wrestling
1. Team trophies will be awarded to the Top 3 teams at the IHSA Girls Wrestling Individual State Finals based upon the points accumulated by the wrestlers during the tournament.
2. The IHSA Girls Wrestling Individual State Finals will utilize Regional rounds (two per Sectional) beginning with the 2024 State Series. Regionals will be conducted on Friday and Saturday during Week 30 of the IHSA standardized calendar and the top six wrestlers from each Regional weight class will advance to the Sectional.

Boys & Girls Wrestling
1. All wrestling schools will be required to use Track Wrestling’s OPC (Optimal Performance Calculator) to determine each wrestler’s descent plan and ideal competition weight.

One non-consent item was approved and is listed below:
1. Officials home addresses will no longer be published in the IHSA Schools Center.

1. The Board sustained the Executive Director’s ruling for Alden-Hebron High School. Alden-Hebron had forfeited its 2023 IHSA Bass Fishing Sectional Championship due to having team personnel who were not in compliance with IHSA By-law 2.010.

At each meeting of the Board of Directors, there are certain items the Board discusses, but upon which no action is taken. The following is a report of those items from the June 12, 2023, agenda:

1. The Board heard a report on an NFHS initiative providing AEDs to schools at a reduced cost. Any IHSA schools interested in the program should contact the IHSA office for more information.

2. The Board heard a report on the new by-laws and changes to existing by-laws that will be in place for the 2023-24 school year beginning on July 1. During the IHSA’s annual legislation process in November and December, IHSA schools proposed and voted on seven by-law changes. Read more on the by-law changes by clicking here.

3. The Board heard a report on IHSA Cross Country State Series scheduling. The Board had previously been asked to consider changes to the Sectional schedule and had sought feedback from the IHSA Cross Country Advisory Committee. The IHSA Cross Country Advisory Committee did not provide a recommendation for any action on the schedule.    

4. The Board discussed the IHSA Basketball Advisory Committee’s future scheduling recommendations for the State Finals moving forward. The Board requested that the IHSA staff work with the host venues to gain further feedback and bring a formal recommendation to the IHSA Board at a future meeting.

5. The Board heard an overview on the upcoming NFHS Summer Meeting.


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