Illinois High School Association

The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is a state high school association in the United States that regulates competition in most interscholastic sports and some interscholastic activities at the high school level. It is a charter member of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS).[2] The IHSA regulates 14 sports for boys, 15 sports for girls, and eight co-educational non-athletic activities. More than 760 public and private high schools in the state of Illinois are members of the IHSA. The Association's offices are in Bloomington, Illinois.

Illinois High School Association
Motto"The Future Plays Here"
FormationDecember 27, 1900
Legal statusAssociation
Headquarters2715 McGraw Dr.
Bloomington, IL 61704
40.467311°N 88.950838°W / 40.467311; -88.950838
Region served
777 high schools[1]
Executive Director
Craig Anderson
AffiliationsNational Federation of State High School Associations

In its over 100 years of existence, the IHSA has been at the center of many controversies. Some of these controversies (inclusion of sports for girls, the inclusion of private schools, drug testing, and the use of the term "March Madness") have had national resonance, or paralleled the struggles seen in other states across the country. Other controversies (geographic advancement of teams to the state playoff series, struggles between small schools and large schools, particular rules unique to Illinois competition) are more of a local focus.


The Illinois High School Association (IHSA) is governed according to the rules of its constitution.[3] This constitution covers the broadest policies of the Association, such as membership, governance, officers and their duties, and meeting requirements.

The IHSA is led by an eleven-member Board of Directors.[4] All eleven members are high school principals from member schools. Seven of the ten are elected to three-year terms from seven geographic regions within the state of Illinois. Three other board members are elected at-large. A treasurer, who does not vote, is appointed by the Board. The Board of Directors determines IHSA policies and employs an executive director and staff. They also work with the Illinois General Assembly, the Illinois State Board of Education, the Illinois Principals Association, the Illinois Association of School Boards, the Illinois Association of School Administrators, the Illinois Athletic Directors Association and the North Central Association.

The IHSA also has a 35-member Legislative Commission,[5] consisting of 21 high school principals, seven high school athletic directors elected from each of the seven state regions, and seven at-large members. The commission reviews amendment proposals to the IHSA Constitution and By-laws, and determines which are passed on to a vote of the member schools. Each school receives one vote on any amendments, with voting taking place annually in December. Changes are passed by simple majority of member schools.

The day-to-day running of the Association is charged to an administrative staff of nine,[6] one of whom acts in the position of Executive Director. This group is directly responsible for setting up and running the individual state playoff series in each sport and activity. They also supervise annual meetings with advisory committees from each sport and activity to review possible changes in the rules. They also coordinate committees on issues from sportsmanship and sports medicine to media relations and corporate sponsorship.

Subordinate to the Constitution and By-Laws are a number of policies.[7] These policies are generally of greater interest to the public, as they more specifically deal with issues that affect the day-to-day operation of sports and activities. Examples of policies include individual athlete eligibility, rules governing the addition of new sports and activities, the classification of schools (1A, 2A, 3A, etc.), and media relations.

The key policy that has been a cornerstone to the IHSA is its policy on grouping and seeding tournaments:

1. The State Series is designed to determine a State Champion. The State Series is not intended to necessarily advance the best teams in the state to the State Final.

The IHSA is built upon the concept of geographic representation in its state playoff series.


Early years

The IHSA was founded on December 27, 1900, at a rump session of the Illinois Principals Association. Known as the Illinois High School Athletic Association for the first 40 years of its existence, the IHSA is the second oldest of the 52 state high school associations. Only the Wisconsin Interscholastic Athletic Association outdates it, by two years.

For the greater part of a decade, the IHSA was concerned mostly with establishing school control over interscholastic athletic programs and setting eligibility standards for competition. Ringers were a persistent problem, and among schoolboy sports, football was a special concern. In this period, severe injuries and even deaths were not uncommon, and there was much talk of banning football completely.

In 1908, the IHSA's mission expanded in an unforeseen direction when its board was convinced by Lewis Omer of Oak Park and River Forest High School to sponsor a statewide basketball tournament. Although a handful of other state associations had sponsored track meets, none had ever attempted to organize a statewide basketball tournament. The first tournament, an 11-team invitational held at the Oak Park YMCA, was a financial success. Subsequent state tournaments, which were open to all member schools, provided the IHSA with fiscal independence, an important new vehicle to spread its message, and ever-increasing name recognition among the public.

By 1922, the affairs of the Association became so time-consuming that its board hired a full-time manager, C. W. Whitten. As vice president of the Board, Whitten had recently reorganized the basketball tournament and reduced the size of the state finals from 21 teams to four. About the same time, the IHSA became a charter member of the National Federation of State High School Associations. In addition to his IHSA responsibilities, Whitten ran the business affairs of the NFHS, at first unofficially, and after 1927 with the official title of general manager.

From this dual stage, Whitten and his assistant manager at the IHSA, H. V. Porter, exerted unusual influence over high school sports, not only in Illinois, but across the nation. In one memorable battle, Whitten took on the "grand old man" of college football, Amos Alonzo Stagg of the University of Chicago and effectively shut down his national tournament for high school basketball champions.[8] Porter served on several NFHS committees and helped develop the molded basketball and the fan-shaped backboard, among other inventions. Porter later became the first full-time executive of the NFHS.

As the Association matured, member schools requested sponsorship of state tournaments in sports other than basketball. The first such move came in 1927, when the IHSA took over control of the Illinois Interscholastic, a festival of high school track, golf, and tennis run by the University of Illinois. The meet continued to be held on the campus in Champaign–Urbana, but as with basketball, IHSA involvement opened the field to all IHSA member schools and removed non-member schools, including a handful of out-of-state schools. The IHSA subsequently established state series in several other boys' sports: swimming and diving (1932), wrestling (1937), baseball (1940), cross country (1946), and gymnastics (1958) (gymnastics had a University of Illinois sponsored state meet from 1952 through 1957). Few of these series were self-supporting, but the ever-popular basketball tournament – sometimes referred to as the "goose that laid the golden egg" – paid the freight for all.

Of the many challenges faced by Whitten during his 20 year career, the one with the longest-lasting repercussions was the reorganization of 1940. Prior to this time, two large groups of Illinois high schools remained outside of IHSA control: private schools, which were not eligible for membership, and the public schools of Chicago, which were eligible but had joined only sporadically. The new constitution approved in 1940 extended the privileges of membership to non-public schools and gave limited autonomy to the Chicago schools, which subsequently joined en masse. In addition, non-athletic activities such as speech and music were added to the IHSA's menu, prompting the elimination of the word "Athletic" from the Association's name.[9][10]

1941 saw one of the first serious challenges to IHSA authority, when the association banned high school bands from competing nationally. When a bill was introduced in the Illinois General Assembly to transfer the IHSA's authority to the state superintendent's office, the IHSA moved to change the ban, and give local athletic directors a greater voice in decision making.[11] Also that year, the IHSA allowed private schools to participate for the first time.[12]

In 1942, as World War II started to have an effect on American life, many schools began dropping less popular sports as transportation and hiring qualified coaches became a serious issue. The association polled its membership to investigate the possibility of ending the spring sports season. The poll supported keeping the season.[13][14] All over the country, as gas rationing threatened to prevent teams and officials from traveling, IHSA Secretary Al Willis was able to get special exemptions for Illinois teams and officials; a precedent that spread to other states, very likely saving high school competitions during the war.[15] By 1943, the IHSA had to look at making changes to its rules regarding eligible coaches, and the prospect of military veterans returning to high school.[16] Ironically, the federal government eventually did put a limit to post season travel for high schools in May, 1945; too late to stop Illinois' spring tournaments, and just in time to herald the end of the war.[17] In the end, the IHSA did not curtail its sports tournaments throughout the war.

Girls' sports

The IHSA's record of leadership in the field of girls' athletics is mixed. Girls have had the opportunity to participate in IHSA sponsored interscholastic sports since 1972, though opportunities before that were somewhat restricted.

Girls' basketball had already begun to pervade high schools by the time the IHSA was founded in 1900. Just a few years later, upwards of 300 Illinois high schools sponsored girls' basketball teams. For a variety of reasons, the early leaders of the IHSA found this situation unacceptable. They were worried about injuries and putting girls on public display, calling basketball "not altogether ladylike". They may also have been concerned about girls stealing gym time from the fledgling boys' teams. On November 2, 1907, the IHSA Board banned all interscholastic competition for girls, becoming the first state association to do so.

Instead the IHSA, with considerable encouragement from female educators, promoted intramural activities and cooperative play days for girls. When Whitten became the director in 1921, he reached out to the Illinois League of High School Girls' Athletic Associations (ILHSGAA) and together they forged an agreement that barred girls' teams from interscholastic competition in most sports for decades thereafter. The IHSA took over the financial support of the girls' association in 1927 and absorbed it in 1945. The IHSA gradually relaxed its policy somewhat, allowing interschool contests for girls in some non-contact sports such as golf, tennis, and archery, but these were never popular events. To provide a small measure of competition in other sports, the IHSA sponsored "telegraphic" or "postal" competitions in basket-shooting, swimming, and bowling.

By the late 1960s Whitten and the ILHSGAA were long gone, but for the high school girls of Illinois the playing field had not changed significantly since 1907. While the IHSA was able to withstand pressure from some of its member schools to initiate meaningful interscholastics for girls, the passage of Title IX in May 1972 finally forced the issue. The IHSA held its first girls' state tournament in tennis that fall, and a variety of other sports quickly followed. Today the IHSA sponsors state tournaments in 14 sports for girls.

Recent times

While the mundane tasks of regulating eligibility and licensing officials remain just as important to the IHSA's mission as they were in the beginning, higher-profile issues having to do with state tournaments –- and who wins them –- have repeatedly stolen the spotlight in recent years.

Class change

Illinois was one of the last states, and certainly the largest, to retain a one-class system, where all schools, regardless of enrollment, competed for the same prize. In December 1970 the smaller schools, who make up the majority of IHSA members, forced a binding referendum on whether to implement a two-class system in boys' basketball, and the measure carried by a narrow margin, 312–293. After this move, several other sports adopted the two-class format. In January 2006, after a substantial majority of schools responding to an advisory referendum indicated a preference for more classes, the IHSA Board of Directors approved expansion in several sports, starting in 2007–08.

At the culmination of the first drive for expansion, the IHSA also sought a way to add a state championship in football to its schedule of events. Because of the sheer number of schools involved, a playoff involving all schools was not possible. In 1974, the IHSA introduced a five-class system in which teams qualified based on their regular-season performance. The addition of the football playoffs coaxed the last large group of non-members, the schools of the Chicago Catholic League, to join the IHSA. The playoffs were expanded to six classes in 1980 and eight classes in 2001.

Private school multiplier

The success of non-public schools in IHSA tournaments has led to considerable debate among the members, 83% of which are public schools. In 1985, the Interstate Eight Conference proposed a bylaw that the IHSA should exclude private schools from competing in state tournaments, though the membership voted this proposal down.[18] In 2005, the Board of Directors implemented a multiplier for classification purposes that boosted the enrollments of non-boundaried schools by a factor of 1.65. A group of 37 private schools later sued the Association, and a settlement was reached that required the multiplier to go through the Association's annual legislative process. In December 2005, the member schools voted 450–143 to retain the 1.65 multiplier.

March Madness

Another lawsuit drew national attention in the 1990s, when the IHSA laid claim to "March Madness". The phrase was first used to describe the IHSA basketball tournament in an essay written by H. V. Porter in 1939 and published in the IHSA's monthly magazine. Over time the phrase came to be used for high school basketball tournaments, particularly in Illinois, but was not trademarked by the IHSA. When a television production company sought to register the phrase, the IHSA sued, leading to a battle that eventually involved the NCAA as well. In the end, a district court judge ruled that both the IHSA and NCAA could register the trademark and use the phrase for their own purposes. In addition, the IHSA is the sole owner of the mark, "America's Original March Madness".

1995 wrestling controversy

In 1995, Mt. Carmel (Chicago), under coach Bill Weick, entered the end of the wrestling season ranked third in the nation by USA Today, and was poised to win its fourth consecutive state dual team title.[19] Just prior to their Regional tournament, the IHSA learned that the school had competed in too many invitational tournaments, and disqualified the school from further competing as a team.[19] Mt. Carmel did not deny the assertion; however, they claimed that one of the varsity tournaments had only had JV and frosh-soph wrestlers competing.[19] Mt. Carmel won a temporary injunction from the Cook County Circuit Court to permit their team to compete in the regionals.[20] While the individual tournaments progressed, Mt. Carmel won a court victory, which forced the IHSA to permit the team to wrestle.[21] When the IHSA's appeal was denied, and after temporarily suspending the tournament, the IHSA decided to end the season without a Class AA state championship dual team tournament; the first time in the history of the Association that a state tournament had been cancelled due to a cause other than war.[22]

Media usage restrictions

On November 1, 2007, the Illinois Press Association (IPA) and two newspapers (the Northwest Herald and the State Journal-Register) filed for a temporary restraining order to prohibit the IHSA from enforcing its policy restricting the use of photographs taken at its state final events. The IHSA's policy, similar to those adopted by the NCAA, colleges such as Illinois State University and the University of Illinois, and other state high school associations, allows news-gathering organizations to sell photos that are published but prohibits the sale (usually through a Web site) of the many photos taken at the event that are not published. A circuit court judge denied the motion on November 5 and encouraged the parties to renew talks to resolve the impasse. The plaintiffs withdrew their request for a preliminary injunction on November 16 as talks continued.

On December 5, 2007, the IHSA announced that it had filed a countersuit to the IPA seeking a resolution to the ongoing issue, citing a failure on the part of the IPA to continue talks, and the ongoing sale of photographs.[23]

In January, 2008, it was announced that State Representative Joseph Lyons had submitted Illinois House Bill 4582, which would prevent the IHSA from enforcing its ban on press outlets from selling pictures of IHSA events.[24]

In April, 2008, the IHSA and the Illinois Press Association jointly announced a cessation of hostilities that gave the press permission to sell photographs without hindrance from the IHSA[25]

Performance-enhancing drug testing

On January 14, 2008, the IHSA announced that, based on a survey of 54% of its principals,[26] it would move forward to design and implement a program to test for the presence of performance-enhancing drugs in student athletes participating in select State Series competitions.[27] While details have not been worked out, based on the vote of the principals, the membership would not favor forcing a team to forfeit in the event of a positive test, though the membership, which voted overwhelmingly favored to support a period of ineligibility for athletes testing positive, and narrowly supported forcing schools to adopt education programs if an athlete tested positive.

Executive directors

Prior to 1991, this office was known as Manager or Executive Secretary.

  • C. W. Whitten, 1922–1942
  • Albert Willis, 1942–1968
  • Harry Fitzhugh, 1968–1978
  • Lavere L. (Liz) Astroth, 1978–1991
  • H. David Fry, 1991–2002
  • Martin L. Hickman, 2002–2016
  • Craig Anderson, 2016–present

Sanctioned sports

SportFirst IHSA State SeriesMost Team ChampionshipsCurrent Season
Badminton (girls)[28]19778–New Trier HSspring
Baseball[29]19405–Providence Catholic HSspring
Basketball (boys)[30]19087–Simeon Career Academywinter
Basketball (girls)[31]19778–Marshall HS (Chicago)winter
Bowling (boys)[32]20033–Andrew HSwinter
Bowling (girls)[33]19736–Machesney Park, Harlem High Schoolwinter
Competitive Cheerleading (girls/co-ed)[34]220066–Lemont HSwinter
Competitive Dance (girls)[35]20134–Geneva Hwinter
Cross Country (boys)[36]194628–York HSfall
Cross Country (girls)[37]197912–Winnebago HSfall
Football[38]10197413–Joliet Catholic Academyfall
Golf (boys)[39]1938310–University HSfall
Golf (girls)[40]19758–Regina Dominican HSfall
Gymnastics (boys)[41]19529–Hinsdale Central HSspring
Gymnastics (girls)[42]197712–Fremd HSwinter
Soccer (boys)[43]197210–Granite City HSfall
Soccer (girls)[44]19888–St. Charles East HSspring
Softball (girls)[45]19767–Casey-Westfield HSspring
Swimming & Diving (boys)[46]193223–New Trier HSwinter
Swimming & Diving (girls)[47]197514–New Trier HSfall
Tennis (boys)[48]1936424–Hinsdale Central HSspring
Tennis (girls)[49]197217–Hinsdale Central HSfall
Track & Field (boys)[50]189317–Oak Park-River Forest HSspring
Track & Field (girls)[51]197314—East St. Louis Lincoln HS5spring
Volleyball (boys)[52]19927–Wheaton-Warrenville South HSspring
Volleyball (girls)[53]197515–Mother McAuley HSfall
Water Polo (boys)[54]200210–Fenwick HSspring
Water Polo (girls)[55]20029–Fenwick HSspring
Wrestling[56]10193713–Montini Catholic HSwinter

Technically, with the exception of baseball, sports with boys teams having no accompanying girls teams are officially both boys & girls teams. Participation of girls on these boys & girls teams is uncommon, as it is in other states with similar arrangements. Girls teams with no accompanying "boys" team are girls only.

On 13 October 2009, the IHSA announced that it would begin sponsoring a state series in lacrosse for both boys and girls starting in 2010–11.[57]

Discontinued sports

SportIHSA State SeriesMost Championships
Archery (girls)[58]1976–802–Rolling Meadows HS
Field Hockey (girls)[59]1975–812–DeKalb HS

Note: In addition, the earliest Track and Field meets (1893–1901) included bicycle racing as events.[60]

Sanctioned non-athletic activities

SportFirst IHSA State SeriesMost Championships
Bass Fishing[61]20091--8-Way Tie
Chess[62]19757--University HS
Debate9[63]194120--Glenbrook North HS
Drama and Group Interpretation[64]194117--Homewood-Flossmoor HS
Journalism[65]20062—Naperville Central High School, Homewood-Flossmoor HS
Music[66]197332--Herscher HS
Scholastic Bowl[67]198712--Illinois Math and Science Academy
Speech Individual Events[68]194116--Downers Grove South High School

Note: Some Illinois high schools field competitive teams in events such as fencing, field hockey, and ice hockey, but the IHSA does not sponsor tournaments in these events.

Other academic competitions, such as Academic Decathlon, Science Olympiad, and DECA are not sponsored by the IHSA, and are governed by their respective national and/or state agencies.

State series format

While the earlier years of the IHSA saw a hodgepodge of systems for organizing each event's state playoff series, there exists today a more uniform system. The IHSA attempts to organize state championship events geographically, so that different regions of the state are represented in state finals competition. Though not every competition uses it, the Regional (R) tournament is generally the lowest level of competition, and is open to every team that is eligible to enter. This is followed by Sectional (S) competition, and is followed by the State (F) level. In some sports, there is a single game Super-Sectional (SS), which follows the Sectional, and determines the state qualifier. In some regions where teams are further from one another, the sectionals are divided into sub-sectionals for seeding purposes. The following is an overview of the state series. Unless noted, boys and girls sports use identical systems. In all cases, seeding is either conducted by a conclave of coaches, or is made by criterion of best scores or times (as in track & field).

Sport# of ClassesFormatSeeding information
Badminton (girls only)1S-Findividuals seeded at sectional level; no team seeding
Baseball4R-S-SS-Fteams seeded at sectional or sub-sectional level
Basketball4R-S-SS-Fteams seeded at sectional or sub-sectional level
Bowling1S-Fno seeding
Cheerleading32S-Fno seeding
Dance3S-Fno seeding
Cross-Country3R-S-Fno seeding
Golf (boys)3R-S-Fno seeding
Golf (girls)2R-S-Fno seeding
Gymnastics (boys)1S-Findividual seeding at sectional level
Gymnastics (girls)1R-S-Findividual seeding at regional level
Soccer3R-S-SS-Fteams seeded at sectional or sub-sectional level
Softball4R-S-SS-Fteams seeded at sectional or sub-sectional level
Swimming & Diving1S-Findividuals seeded at sectional level
Tennis1S-Findividuals seeded at sectional level
Track & Field3S-Findividuals seeded at sectional level
Volleyball (boys)1R-S-Fteams seeded at sectional or sub-sectional level
Volleyball (girls)4R-S-SS-Fteams seeded at sectional or sub-sectional level
Water Polo1S-Fteams seeded at sectional level
Wrestling3R-S-Findividuals seeded at regional level7

None of the competitive activities to date have a super-sectional level of competition, but otherwise follow similar formats for their state competitions. Music is a noted exception.

Activity# of ClassesFormatSeeding information
Bass Fishing1S-Fnone
Chess1FTop 56 teams are determined by a pairing committee; Swiss pairing afterwards
Drama & Group Interpretation1S-Fnone
Scholastic Bowl2R-S-Fteams seeded at sectional or sub-sectional level
Speech Individual Events1R-S-Fnone

Notable medalists in IHSA sponsored state series

National High School Hall of Fame inductees

Twenty-three Illinoisans are members of the National High School Hall of Fame sponsored by the NFHS. The honorees, and their year of induction:

Peg Kopec (2016) was a volleyball coach at Wheaton St. Francis.

See also


1The total of 52 counts the high school association of the District of Columbia and the two associations in Iowa, of which the latter has separate governing bodies for boys' and girls' school activities.

2The IHSA sponsors three classes of competitive cheerleading. In addition, there is a fourth class for coed cheerleading teams.

3While boys' golf did not have a team champion until 1938, the IHSA sponsored an individual tournament in 1916, and from 1919 onward.

4Boys' tennis did not have a team champion until 1936, but the IHSA sponsored individual tournaments from 1912 to 1915, and then from 1919 onward.

5The seventeen state titles in Girls Track and Field were won by Lincoln High School in East St. Louis. This school closed after the 1997–98 school year. East St. Louis Senior High School is the caretaker of these records, though the school has not won any state titles in this sport since the merger.[88]

6Football is the only sport to which a team must qualify for entry. 256 teams are accepted based on record, and then opponent wins. These teams are broken into eight groups by size, after which, each team is assigned to one of two 16-team brackets based on geography. Seeding within the bracket is based on record, and then opponent wins.

7Wrestling teams are assigned to a regional by geography. Individual wrestlers are seeded in each weight class. The team regional champion is based on team scores, which are standard for wrestling tournaments, based on individual advancement. The individuals then compete in individual sectionals and an individual state championship. Afterwards, the teams that won their regionals compete in a dual team sectional tournament, with sectional winners advancing to state.

8Music competition is held in a sweepstakes format. Competing schools perform at sites throughout the state. Scores are then submitted from each site to the IHSA, who then rank teams according to the judges scores, with the highest score in each Class being the State Champion. Any school earning a "First Division" distinction in judging, irrelevant of their final placement, may purchase an award. While barred from solo performance, music ensembles are the only IHSA competitions in which junior high or middle school participation is permitted.

9The IHSA stopped recognizing team champions in debate after the 1971–72 school year. Individual competition continues to the present.

10Although Football and Wrestling are boys' sports, girls can play in both of these sports.



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  • Johnson, Scott, et al. 100 Years of Madness: The Illinois High School Association Boys' Basketball Tournament. (Bloomington: Illinois High School Association, 2007). ISBN 0-9601166-6-4
  • Whitten, Charles W. Interscholastics: A Discussion of Interscholastic Contests. (Chicago: Illinois High School Association, 1950).
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