While many focus on high school football, the organization governing Arizona high school sports and activities since 1913 is considering a new STEM-based activity and finding ways to expand opportunities for all students.
The Arizona Interscholastic Association provides a balance of academic and extracurricular activities that touch nearly 100,000 students at its 268 member public and private schools who participate in everything from volleyball to speech and debate.
Priorities include making events available and accessible for disabled student athletes who want to participate, and expanding Unified Sports Programs, in which students with and without intellectual disabilities train and play together on the same teams, said Dr. Harold Slemmer, executive director of the association since 1999.
“The AIA is all-inclusive to every high school student out there regardless of what type of school they go to and what type of gifts they bring to the event,” said Slemmer, who was principal at Mountain Pointe High School in Phoenix for nine years before leading the AIA. “We want to make sure we’re meeting all the needs.”
This summer, the association raised some fees and reduced expenses to deal with a $519,000 shortfall in 2012-13.
“As soon as we were able to ascertain that our income was not meeting the expenses of our basic operations, we informed the board,” said Slemmer, who coached and taught at many schools. “They came up with a plan that we could meet those expenses, and we shared that with the member schools as soon as we possibly could.”
The board’s actions should “satisfy that concern,” and we’ll have a better idea of what expenses and revenue will be further into the year, Slemmer said.
Some schools said the board’s June 11 decision to increase fees came after they’d already approved their yearly budgets.
“Some schools felt like they should have been more in that process, when the bottom line is that the board makes that decision,” Slemmer said. “We always welcome input and ideas the schools might have.”
Two years ago, the AIA began taking into consideration not just student enrollment, but other factors in determining which conference schools compete in.
“We will continue that,” Slemmer said. “Part of the criteria that we use, when schools appeal down in classification or up for that matter – they can do both now – is we look at the demographics for the school, the students and their ability to field competitive teams.”
“A rural school might have a more difficult time of getting kids to the school to be involved in sports, so we’re pretty open to various reasons why schools need to appeal down,” said Slemmer, who played football under former Arizona State University Coach Frank Kush. “It’s not just enrollment, there’s a lot of other factors that schools have the opportunity to bring forward.”
The AIA is also looking at alternative competition structures for its growing charter school membership that takes into consideration their differences from traditional schools, Slemmer said.
Q: What new interscholastic activities and competitions is the AIA considering and why?
A: We definitely are going to be looking at adding robotics. In fact, we will be hosting a robotics competition this coming May. We’re working on the logistics of that now.
That was as a result of a number of folks coming to us and asking if we would consider doing that. We shared that with our executive board. A robotics director presented to us how they do it in Minnesota, and the board felt very inspired to give direction to us to move forward and start planning an event this May for robotics competition.
Robotics competition won’t be exactly like our sports competition, because there’s lots of different logistics around what’s involved, but it will be very similar and it will be an official AIA state competition.
Q: What is AIA 365 and what led to its development?
A: That’s one of the major efforts that the AIA has undergone in the last 15 years, if not the most major effort.
The bottom line is that part of what we believe strongly that we do is advocate for our kids and our student athletes in the state. One way that we advocate for them is to present to the public for everyone to see their accomplishments, the various logistical information that schools need to know and parents need to know.
Basically, that website is an all high school information site. It’s a major effort, and we spend a lot of resources on that, but we also have a lot of sponsorship support to make that happen.
Last year we video-streamed 140 championship events on that site. We had over 11 million hits last winter when we were in the middle of basketball season.
It’s arguably the best quality web site for high school sports in the country at this point.
It’s kind of similar to what you’d see on ESPN, but the difference between ESPN and the various state associations is that we have a much higher volume of member schools that we support and advocate for. There’s a little less than 18,000 high schools in the country, so there’s a lot of data and information.
Q: What else has the AIA been working on?
A: One of the things that we have worked on very intensely over the last two years and that’s going to continue in the near future is to create an environment where kids are as safe as they possibly can be when they compete.
The head injuries-concussion issues are definitely at the forefront. We’re very well aware of that, and we are always looking to make changes that make it as safe as possible.
We made some major changes here this year for football, not only the playing rules change that we were all very much involved in at the national level, but we also addressed changes in the amount of contact time kids can have during the season in practice.
We have a sports-medicine advisory committee made up of some very prominent doctors in the Valley and throughout the state that continue to give us recommendations to follow when it comes to future safety concerns for our athletes that we run by the membership and the board.
(This interview was edited for length and clarity)