St. Francis student takes on the IHSA

WHEATON -- Angered by the IHSA's recent rule changes, Wheaton (St. Francis) honor student Matt Unger did what any tech-savvy athlete would do -- he created a Web site to vent his frustrations and propose an alternative solution to the problem of public versus private schools. Unger's Web site, the aptly named, is less of an attack on the IHSA than an appeal to consider another option. A 15-year-old soccer player, Unger's site has received large response from public and private students, all hoping to find a way to stop what they consider to be unfair initiatives in the IHSA's quest to quell private-school dominance. "The new IHSA rules throw a broad net over the entire small school population, catching the few fish they are after but also entrapping the many they are not," Unger said in a press release. Unger's personal experience has played a large role in motivating his actions. The St. Francis soccer team has enjoyed a turnaround in recent years after a long run of futility. Rather than open boundaries, Unger credits "a new coach and a winning attitude" with helping the Spartans hit their stride. As one of the "fish" who have not achieved the amount of success that got the public schools up in arms, Unger and other St. Francis athletes feel the sting of being lumped together with private schools who have come under fire. "The approach taken by the IHSA is the exact opposite of what they teach us in their classrooms," he said. "You don't send the entire class to the Dean when you don't like the behavior of a few students." The problem, as Unger sees it, is the new multiplier affects every private school whose enrollment exceeds 450. Though the cutoff does spare smaller private schools, while obviously ensnaring the institutions who have enjoyed overwhelming success, the larger private schools who do not win championships year after year are pleading their case to the IHSA. Unger's proposal, called Advancement Based on Ability (ABA), is culled from a format used in soccer leagues. Rather than placing private schools in larger classes before they have won anything, ABA would simply call for the previous year's champions, whether public or private, to move up one class for the postseason. This would necessitate the IHSA expanding every sport beyond the current two-class system, and Unger points out Illinois is one of only five states in the country who have yet to do so. Of the five holdouts, Illinois' 752 high schools are more than two and one-half times the total of the second-largest state in the group, Kentucky. "I understand there will always be some coaches/parents who hate the idea of moving up to play against tougher competition ... No plan will ever satisfy them unless it's a plan that allows them to win the state championship every year," Unger said. ABA dictates a team who wins more than one championship in a row will keep moving up every successive year until they fail to win, after which they will drop down a class each year they do not. Schools will never drop below the class their enrollment originally determined them to be in, however. "I just want every team playing at the most appropriate level of competition," Unger said. "The multiplier supporters and I agree that it's boring to watch Driscoll win the 3A and 4A (football) championships every year. The difference between us is that I think only the winning football team should face more challenging competition, while the multiplier supporters think every single team at the football school should face harder competition." When questioned about the discriminatory nature of singling out successful programs, and the opposition it would surely face, Unger pointed out the same flaw in the IHSA's plan, adding his is the only plan guaranteed to accomplish the goal in a fair manner.

"I'm not too worried about my plan being discriminatory. The multiplier discriminates against a small group of IHSA members, but my plan applies to every single member of the IHSA equally," he said. "The IHSA is intent on 'leveling the playing field,' so (detractors) better get used to the idea of change. The only question left is what the change will look like."