By Anthony Jones
The Illinois Elementary School Association, an organization that runs middle and junior high school sports and activities for many schools throughout the state is among the many entities that have felt financial impact from the COVID-19 pandemic. Because of this, they have begun a fundraiser on the website GoFundMe to help secure the continued operation of the Association.
Although the Southern Illinois Junior High School Athletic Association provides the same service for many schools in our local area, the IESA still is used locally as well. For instance, Triad Middle School competes in the IESA for Scholar Bowl and Collinsville Middle School’s Boys Wrestling happens within the IESA. Edwardsville’s Liberty and Lincoln Middle Schools also compete in the IESA for most of their competitions and Highland Middle School also competes within the Association.
Since the fundraiser started on December 7, donations have been steadily coming in. Exactly three weeks since it started, the total raised went over $24,000. Donation amounts have ranged widely from $10 all the way up to $1,000. For those interested in learning more about the IESA or contributing to the fundraiser, they can be found online at www.iesa.org.
Below is a portion of their statement included with the fundraiser.
“The Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) is the only organization throughout all 50 states that is set-up to exclusively govern and administer athletic and non-athletic activities at the middle/jr. high school level. Every state has a state high school association, but Illinois is the only state that has an association that is separate from the state’s high school association.
We are proud to say that many collegiate athletes, professional athletes and even Olympic athletes started their athletic careers by participating in IESA activities. Jim Thome, a member of the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame Class, played for Peoria Pleasant Hill when they advanced to the IESA basketball finals in 1983. Ben Zobrist, a two-time World Series champion and 2016 World Series MVP, led his Eureka Middle School team to the IESA baseball finals in 1995. Ogonna Nnamani is a two-time member of the U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball team (2004 & 2008) after an outstanding collegiate career at Stanford where she was named the National Player of the Year in 2004. She attended Normal Metcalf Grade School where she starred in basketball leading her team to the IESA finals in 1995. Ironically, volleyball was an afterthought and she only tried out for volleyball as the result of some encouragement from her coach. Little did she know that volleyball would be her ticket to life changing opportunities. Ogonna is now Dr. Nnamani Silva having obtained her medical degree from the University California San Francisco. Jorge Torres, who attended Prospect Heights MacArthur Middle School, won the 2002 NCAA Men’s Division 1 Cross-Country Championship before representing the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics. He dominated the IESA cross country program as a 7thand 8th grader becoming the first runner in IESA history to break the 10 minute mark for the two mile event. Kristin Wurth-Thomas also participated in the 2008 Summer Olympics running in the women’s 1500 meter event. Wurth-Thomas attended Chiddix Jr. High School in Normal. Meyers Leonard played in the 2006 IESA state basketball finals for Robinson Nuttall. Meyers was the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft and started in the 2020 NBA Finals for the Miami Heat. While these are just a handful of former IESA athletes that have attained the highest levels of success, there are literally millions of students throughout the 90 year history of IESA who started their athletic and activity careers at our level. We are proud that we have been able to provide opportunities for all students. Sadly and unfortunately, these opportunities could all come to pause.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on the IESA. We do not receive any funds from the state of Illinois. We are not a state agency. Most of our operating funds are the result of attendance at the state series events. As those events have been cancelled because of the pandemic, the Association has been crippled by the revenue loss. No championships were held for volleyball, wrestling, and track and field in the spring of 2020 which resulted in a loss of $440,000. There were no golf, baseball, softball, cross country, and girls basketball championships in the fall of 2020 and as of this writing it does not appear as though championships in any sport will be held for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. That will cause a nearly 1.5-million-dollar deficit to the Association’s budget. We simply cannot survive that kind of financial hit and continue to operate. In fact, we won’t survive. Without any significant income, we are spending our reserves and those reserves will likely run out in April. Once they are gone, so too will the very Association that has been providing opportunities for middle school and junior high school students for 90 years.
We have done so much for so many students in our 90-year history. IESA has provided each and every one something so unique to this country. We need your help if we are going to be able to continue to be the middle/jr. high school leader in education-based activities and provide opportunities for students. Any donation made will help to insure we can continue to do what we do better than anyone. Not only is the future of the Association at stake but so too are the hopes and dreams for students across Illinois who attend an IESA member school.
Perhaps you participated in an IESA activity; perhaps your children participated; perhaps you coached or officiated at this level, or perhaps you are just a fan of interscholastic activities. If you believe in the mission of the IESA, I hope you will make a gift so we can continue to operate, By doing so, not only will we continue to offer championships but more importantly, we will continue to provide opportunities for boys and girls across our state to represent their school and enrich their lives through participating in education-based activities. Every donation will have an impact. We need your support!”