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Michigan High School Athletic Association is not a public agency, appeals court rules

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Michigan High School Athletic Association is not a public agency, appeals court rules

  • Because an athletic association does not get public funding and was not created by a public entity, it does not have to tell what criteria it uses to determine whether high school athletes are eligible or ineligible.

April 11, 2003 — The Michigan High School Athletic Association is not a public agency because it was not created by public authority and does not derive its funding from the state, a Michigan Court of Appeals panel in Grand Rapids ruled March 6.

In a three-to-one decision, the panel overturned a January 2002 Emmert County trial court decision, which found that the association should provide a student’s parents with information about the criteria used to determine the ineligibility of high school athletes.

Martin and Kathryn Breighner requested that information after their son Jordan was found ineligible for competition on the Harbor Springs High School ski team in February 2001 because his participation in nonsanctioned races had exceeded the number allowed by the MHSAA.

When the Breighners were denied information about the rules governing sanctioned races, they sued the MHSAA in September 2001, seeking a declaratory judgment identifying the athletic association as a public body subject to Michigan’s Freedom of Information Act.

The trial court ruled that the association is a public agency because it receives its funding from ticket sales at athletic events, which frequently take place at MHSAA- affiliated high schools.

The appellate court ruled that MHSAA and the school “work in tandem” to achieve mutual benefits and that the association does not “usurp the schools’ money making capacity.” As a result, the association is not financially supported though state or local authority, and therefore is not a public agency.

The MHSAA was founded in 1924 to oversee athletic competitions among affiliated high schools. It severed direct ties to the state in 1972 when it became a nonprofit organization. It has not received government funding since 1995.

With reference to this history, “the modern incarnation of the MHSAA is a unique entity that was not ‘created’ and ’cause[d] to come into being by state or local authority,” the court ruled.

In dissent, Judge Kathleen Jansen agreed with the trial court that the MHSAA is a public agency. The schools allow the MHSAA to operate athletic events and to receive funding from the tickets that are sold at those events, making it clear that the funding exists through the school’s authority, Jansen wrote.

(Martin B. and Kathryn Breighner v. Michigan High School Athletic Association) PC

© 2003 The Reporters Committee for Freedom of the Press

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