Mike and Amy Gronigan didn’t necessarily know what to expect Wednesday morning at the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association’s first Intermediate Appeals Panel meeting.
They walked away the only victorious family when their son Andrew was narrowly granted his athletic eligibility at Edmond North, but they were also impressed with how well the panel worked.
“I appreciated having the eye contact, and I felt like they were engaged in the conversation and listening to what we had to say and taking what we had to say into consideration,” Amy said.
The OSSAA started the five-member panel to add another layer to the appeals process and give students more of an opportunity to gain eligibility, but it also brought a more comfortable setting along with it.
At OSSAA board meetings, appeals are presented at a podium to a 14-member board and the OSSAA staff. Now, the appeals are presented and discussed at the same table as the panel as a way to help people feel at ease.
It’s a positive change many took notice of Wednesday.
“I thought the tension was a lot less,” OSSAA executive director Ed Sheakley said. “It was a lot friendlier and a lot more user friendly with this relaxed smaller number.
“We know sometimes on how intimidating it is when you’re speaking to a panel or people you’ve never met before. We want people to feel at ease, we want them to feel comfortable, we want them just to sit down, relax, sit across the table from one another and ask questions.”
The panel is comprised of panel chairman and Alva superintendent Steve Parkhurst, Oklahoma City Schools district administrator Charles Carpenter, Verdigris athletic director Gary Kennemer, Burns Flat-Dill City superintendent Ron Hughes and Talihina superintendent Jason Lockhart.
None of them shied from asking questions of the group appealing or OSSAA staff members to clarify the rules.
That resulted in one appeal being granted (by a 3-2 vote after a denial motion was voted down), three being denied and two being tabled for the family to provide the OSSAA with new information.
“Understand, we have to look at these based on rules,” Lockhart told one parent during an appeal.
The three students denied their hardship can still appeal at next week’s board meeting, but this time it will cost them the usual administrative fee of $100. Going before the new panel is free.
The panel meets 12 times per year, including twice in August and September to accommodate the high amount of appeals. Each meeting is schedule one week before a board meeting with the extra ones the following week.
The extra level of appealing is a sign of improvement, Parkhurst said.
“I believe that this is a good step for the Oklahoma Secondary School Activities Association because it truly gives students their right due process because if they come here and whether we agree to it or deny it, they still have one more step,” he said. “I think that’s important.
“I think there’s lots and lots of rules out there and I think the thing we have to watch as a new committee is we have to be consistent with the rules and not let emotions get involved, and that’s tough.”
But the general reaction was that the panel did its job well the first day, and it will get better.
“I really appreciate the new process,” said Edmond North athletic director Tom Snider, who had one appeal approved and one denied.
“They were fully engaged with us, all five people I really felt were listening and paying attention. I think they were trying to do what was best for the student and still stick on the side of the OSSAA having to go with the rules that they set in place.”