IHSAA to be eliminated? Bill in place due to Jasmine Watson case

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Hold the presses.

There's another new development in the Jasmine Watson-IHSAA case, and this one could have a long-lasting effect on the future of high school sports in Indiana.

Displeased by the manner in which the IHSAA has handled the case of Jasmine Watson -- the girls' basketball player who transferred from Elkhart Memorial to South Bend Washington -- an Indiana House panel has passed a plan that would eliminate the IHSAA altogether.

The bill, sponsored by South Bend Representative David Niezgodski (D), would put control of high school sports under the Department of Education.

"The IHSAA is the living embodiment of the faceless, nameless bureaucracy that is able to thrive because it is not accountable to anyone," Niezgodski said. "With House Bill 1733, we will provide the accountability that has been lacking."

The IHSAA is a volunteer organization that is governed by its members schools.

"We’re disappointed that this bill has been introduced and don’t believe there is any need for it," IHSAA commissioner Blake Ress said in statement released to Newscenter 16.

Watson's case was the final straw, according to Niezgodski.

When Watson first transferred to Washington, Memorial protested and claimed it was for athletic reasons. The IHSAA agreed and Watson was ruled ineligible. The senior missed the first half of the girls' basketball season.

In December, Watson's case went to a St. Joseph County Circuit Court, where a judge ruled that the transfer was not for athletic reasons but rather for economic hardship, as the Watsons had claimed.

The Court ruled Watson eligible, and she immediately began playing for Washington.

Since that time, the IHSAA has not given in and continues to pursue an appeal -- one that would not likely come until after the state championship.

That means, if Washington were to win the state title and the IHSAA would win its appeal, the Panthers could be forced to forfeit their state championship because they had an ineligible player.

House Bill 1733 was approved this week in the House Education Committee to combat the problem.

Under the bill, the division of interscholastic athletics would be governed by a nine-member board of directors appointed by the state Superintendent of Public Instruction.

"This board would regulate, supervise and administer all interscholastic athletic programs, and establish standards for eligibility, competition and sportsmanship while providing protection against the exploitation of schools or students," Niezgodski said.

"In short, it would do everything the IHSAA does now, except with a level of oversight and accountability that is missing today."

If the bill, which now advances to the full House, becomes law, state control of high school athletics would take place on July 1.

Meanwhile, Watson is still playing basketball, and this announcement comes just two days before she and Washington will face her former team Memorial in the regional playoffs.

This won't be Jasmine's first meeting with her old school, but she says that doesn't make it any easier.

"I don't think it matters if we played them three times during the year," Watson told Newscenter 16 on Wednesday. "It's always going to be different for me because every time I step on that floor, I'm a Panther now instead of a Charger."

In going through all of this -- going to court, being forced to sit out of games -- Watson has become a stronger person.

"It didn't break me," Watson said. "That was the main thing I was focused on. It didn't break my spirits."

"Basketball is something I love to do. No matter what, no one can take that away from me."

That determination and ability to fight with such grace is something those around her admire.

"Everything she had to go through this year and the end of last year, I don't think a lot of teenagers or young adults would have been able to handle it like she did," teammate Skylar Diggins said.

Washington coach Maurice Scott agrees. "She has a big heart, she cares about people, she cares about her teammates."

"She's very special here."

And that's why Jasmine has quickly become a vocal leader for the Panthers -- in more ways than one.

"I've been able to sing for a long time," Watson says, laughing.

Jasmine sang the National Anthem before Washington's final regular season game last month. Her singing inspired Diggins and Scott, who both broke down crying because of the emotion of the night.

"She's a wonderful singer," Scott says. "We might have to get her to tryout for American Idol next year."

Diggins meanwhile is known for being the best at just about everything. This is one area she quickly concedes to Jasmine.

"She has me on that," Skylar says with a smile. "We do a little pre-game, locker room duets sometimes, but nothing anyone would hear out here."

For Panthers fans, the duet between Skylar and Jasmine they want to see most is the combination that puts up a lot of points on Memorial Saturday at 12:30 ET at Valpo High School in the regional semifinals.