Prep Sports

Will open enrollment in Iowa become even more open for athletes?

School officials react over Gov. Reynolds' proposed amendment, which would make open-enrollees immediately eligible for sports

Gov. Kim Reynolds talks with journalists via Zoom during an Iowa Capitol Press Association Legislative Forum on Jan. 7.
Gov. Kim Reynolds talks with journalists via Zoom during an Iowa Capitol Press Association Legislative Forum on Jan. 7. (Rebecca F. Miller/The Gazette)

A proposed amendment, which could make open-enrolled Iowa high school students immediately eligible to compete in sports at their new school, leaves a trail of concern.

“As a member of the (Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union) board of directors, this is a five-alarm fire,” said Ron Fadness, board of education president for the Decorah Community School District.

Gov. Kim Reynolds set forth a 65-page bill Wednesday. Dig long enough, and you’ll find the following proposed amendment (to Section 282, Subsection 11a):

“A pupil who participates in open enrollment or who has paid tuition and attended school, or has attended school pursuant to a mutual agreement between the two districts in a district other than the pupil’s district of residence, may participate immediately in interscholastic athletic contests and athletic competitions upon enrollment in the district.”

Currently, open-enrollees can’t participate at the varsity level at their new school for 90 school days, basically a full semester of school.

“An athlete could transfer midweek and be eligible Friday,” Fadness said. “This isn’t sliding down a slippery slope. It’s jumping off a cliff.”

Tom Keating, executive director of the Iowa High School Athletic Association, said he is “certainly not in favor of being immediately eligible from one place to another. It puts a lot of pressure on the schools.”

But he’s preaching patience, and waiting to see how this all plays out.


“You know me, I don’t get worked up about stuff that hasn’t happened yet,” Keating said. “I’ve read it, I think I understand it, and I need some time to digest what it means. What would be the intended and unintended consequences?

“It’s consistent with the governor’s desire to give parents school choice. The first draft of something isn’t the final draft. As it evolves, we’ll keep watching.”

Keating’s counterpart at the Iowa Girls High School Athletic Union, Jean Berger was not surprised by Wednesday’s action.

“To be honest, I think the governor was very open that this was coming,” Berger said.

“I think we’re a long way from knowing what’s going to happen. It still has to go to through committee, they’ll hash it out. The wording might get changed. And a lot of bills don’t get acted on.”

Yes, wording is key. Interestingly, the word “varsity” was crossed out in the bill. Had it stayed in, it would have read:

“ ... may participate immediately in varsity interscholastic athletic contests ... ”

Instead, it reads:

“ ... may participate immediately in interscholastic athletic contests ... ”

Student-athletes already can open-enroll and be eligible immediately in sub-varsity sports.

In addition to her role as IHSAA Board of Control chairperson, Barb Schwamman is the superintendent at Osage and Riceville schools.

She chose to speak as the latter.

“I’m very concerned,” Schwamman said. “If this opens it up, people could be moving from season to season, school to school without repercussions.

“You look at the total program, and education is more important than just one facet (sports). The fear is that kids will be playing Friday night for one school, and for another school the next week.”

Keating was given this scenario:


What if an athlete participated for School X, which was eliminated in the postseason and promptly open-enrolled to School Y, which was still playing? Theoretically, the athlete could compete immediately.

His response:

“One: The exiting school would have to agree to the move.

“Two: Would the coach at the entering school be willing to upset the chemistry and the parents by allowing the athlete to play the next day?

“Three: This isn’t the final language of the bill.

“There’s still a long way to go.”

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