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IHSA, National Group Caution Parents Against Travel Sports Costs, Promises

IHSA girls basketball championship
The IHSA says athlete specialization is leading to declining participation in most prep sports.

The organization that oversees high school sports in Illinois said parents should do their homework before sending their child to play on a travel sports team.

Matt Troha
Credit IHSA
IHSA assistant director Matt Troha said the association shares some of the concerns the NFHS raised regarding travel sports, though he said the IHSA likely wouldn't have worded its concerns are strongly.

Illinois High School Association Assistant Director Matt Troha said coaches on these for-profit programs sometimes promise athletic success that may not be realistic.

“We hear a lot of horror stories at our office about those kinds of things,” Troha said. “You also hear, ‘You have to come play on my travel team if you want to play on the high school team because I have a hand in both.’

“We have rules against that but there are grey areas and areas that are tough to enforce.”

The IHSA is responding to a message which National Federation of State High School Associations executive director Karissa Niehoff recently publishedcriticizing travel sports and other for-profit organizations that have been on the rise, sometimes at the expense of high school sports.

Niehoff warned travel sports can also cost a family thousands of dollars a year, but that rarely leads to a college scholarship.

Troha said the IHSA doesn't want to "vilify" all travel sports programs, but he urges parents to study the costs and understand coaches are in no position to promise playing time for a high school team or an athletic scholarship in college.

Troha said travel sports are just one factor in declining participation in most prep sports in Illinois, due largely to specialization as travel coaches sometimes encourage a child to focus on one sport to improve their chance for success.

“This message gets spoken into truth that you have to do this or you have to do that in order to make it to that next level,” Troha said.

Troha said sport specialization can lead to repetitive use injuries, which he conceded is not simply a travel sports problem.

According to the NFHS website, participation in Illinois high school sports has dropped by more than 10% in football, baseball, softball and girls basketball over the last decade.

The NCAA and NFHS moved last year to change the recruiting calendar to limit the time in which college coaches could watch travel teams during the summer and increase the time where they could watch high school teams play.

The IHSA hosted six team high school basketball tournaments over the summer.

Troha said feedback from college coaches was largely positive.

“They liked the idea of seeing kids play within a high school system with actual offenses and defenses,” Troha said. “They like the idea of seeing (recruits) be the best player on the court and have to take the leadership role.”

He added some coaches found new prospects during these tournaments who hadn’t been on their radar before.

“That pushed back against that whole thinking that there’s only one way in that particular sport to get a scholarship,” Troha said.

Troha said tournaments like these might limit the impact travel teams have in college recruiting, in light of recent recruiting scandals across college athletics.

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Eric Stock is the News Director at WGLT. You can contact Eric at ejstoc1@ilstu.edu.
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