The nation’s first prep sports governing body to face a class-action concussions lawsuit has asked an Illinois judge to dismiss the suit, arguing that if it prevails, it could kill football programs statewide.
In its 16-page motion filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the Illinois High School Association, or IHSA, says it and its 800 member schools have been proactive about improving head-injury management for the 50,000 football players they oversee each year.
The motion calls the suit “a misguided effort that threatens high school football.”
The IHSA filing is the first comprehensive response to the lawsuit — filed in November and slightly amended in January — that seeks court supervision over how high schools manage head injuries. The IHSA filed the response late Friday and provided a copy to The Associated Press.
The filing echoes IHSA Director Marty Hickman’s previous comments to reporters that court-imposed mandates could make football prohibitively expensive for poorer schools, especially Chicago’s public high schools, and lead to “haves and have nots” in the sport.
Plaintiff attorney Joseph Siprut has said improving safety should help football survive, not lead to its demise. He said football is already in jeopardy because parents fearful of concussions are refusing to let their kids play, potentially drying up the talent pool.
College and professional football have faced a barrage of class-action lawsuits in recent years. But the one that names the IHSA as defendant is the first-of-its-kind against a high school football governing body. Each of the 50 states has its own governing body.
The IHSA’s new filing says it can’t be compared to the cash-rich NCAA and NFL. The IHSA has $10 million in yearly revenue to pay for more than 40 sports and activities statewide, and court-imposed mandates could be financially crippling, it argues.
The lawsuit doesn’t seek monetary damages. In addition to court oversight, it seeks requirements that medical personnel be present at all games and practices, among other mandates. It also calls for the IHSA to pay for medical testing of former high school football players extending back to 2002.
The IHSA filing argues that designating a court-administered high school head-injury policy — rather than leaving it to the prep body, school boards and Illinois legislators — would be unwieldy.
“If a high school … fails to have a court-ordered medical professional at a football practice, how will such a violation of the Court’s injunction be remedied?” it asks. “Sanction the IHSA? The local school board? The principal? The athletic director? The coaches? All of the above?”
The lead plaintiff in the initial suit was Daniel Bukal, an ex-quarterback at Notre Dame College Prep in Niles. He was replaced in the amended suit by Alex Pierscionek, a former South Elgin High School lineman. Pierscionek alleges he still suffers memory loss from concussions he received playing at the suburban Chicago school from 2010 to 2014. The suit is filed as a class-action, but the court has not yet approved that status.
A status hearing in the case before Cook County Judge LeRoy Martin Jr. is set for April 23.