Proposed bill would require athletic group to have open meetings

A bill proposed by Sen. Joseph Getty would force the Maryland Public Secondary School Athletic Association to restructure its processes to include open meetings.

When the Westminster High School football team was required to forfeit a game for a technical infraction in the fall, Getty, R-District 5, said he talked to many parents of the players who expressed concerns about the secrecy of the association's process.

Senate Bill 557 would rename the MPSSAA as the Maryland Interscholastic Athletic Association and make it a state agency within the Maryland State Department of Education. As such, it would become a public body fully governed by the state's open meetings and public information statutes.

In an email, Getty wrote that the MPSSAA was created in 1946 as a quasi-private entity for the purposes of establishing and enforcing standards of conduct for secondary interscholastic athletics in Maryland. In 2004, the Maryland Open Meeting Compliance Board issued an opinion confirming that the MSPPAA conducts public functions but does so as a private entity and is not covered under the open meetings law.

Despite this, the staff is paid by state funds and it operates out of the Nancy S. Grasmick State Department of Education Building. Maryland Deparment of Education, Getty said.

"My concern is that in all respects, this operates as a public body," he said.

During the association's appeals process or similar hearings, its board meets in private and sends out its decision with little explanation. If it was an open process, the board would receive other opinions that could influence its decisions, Getty said.

"I think that type of closed process is not flexible to considering mitigating circumstances or other issues," Getty said.

During the Westminster incident, for instance, there was admittedly a rules violation, but the violation did not matter to the final outcome of the game, he said.

The Westminster Owls beat Manchester Valley High School 57-7 on Oct. 28, but a quarterback who took part in a junior varsity game two days earlier also played in the latter stages of the varsity contest. The player was found to be ineligible according to MPSSAA rules governing participation, which allow players to play in only one game per week.

Westminster football coach Brad Wilson said he was unclear about the wording regarding the rule, and sought clarification from Westminster athletic director Terry Molloy. Molloy has said that he, too, was unclear about the rule and contacted Carroll's supervisor of athletics, Jim Rodriguez. Molloy and Wilson said that Rodriguez told them it would be allowable to use the player in question in both games.

Wilson, Rodriguez, Westminster principal Ken Goncz, Carroll schools superintendent Stephen Guthrie, and school board attorney Ed O'Meally went behind closed doors before the committee to make their case to the appeals committee. The MPSSAA denied the appeal, however.

At the bill hearing Wednesday in the Education, Health and Environmental Affairs Committee, many committee members were also concerned about the openness and transparency of the association's processes, Getty said.

The head of the MPSSAA testified in opposition of the bill and Richard Titus, a Westminster lawyer who is the parent of a Westminster High School football player, testified in favor of the bill.

Titus said when the Westminster football situation occurred, he planned to attend the MPSSAA meetings, but then was told he could not because of its private status.

"It didn't seem right to me that they were serving in a private capacity when they were serving an inherently public state function," he said.

The association's decisions affect the public school students that it oversees, like the Westminster High School football players, he said.

"I think at a minimum, the kids on Westminster's team deserve to get an explanation first hand from the appeals committee why the decision was upheld," Titus said.

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