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In the late 1920's, several central Illinois grade school principals and coaches felt a need for broader and more unified leadership for their activities program. Although the Illinois High School Association had been established in 1903 to strengthen and unify the state's then infant high school activities program, there was not a separate organization setup for the activities of the state's grade schools. In April, 1928, Bureau, El Paso, Granville, Gridley, Rutland, Toluca, Tonica, and Washburn schools established themselves as the charter members of the "Illinois State Graded School Athletic Association", which later evolved into the "Illinois Elementary School Association" (IESA) in 1939. The name change took effect after a more comprehensive activities program was offered. Since its inception, it has been the desire of the association that the services and activities it provides to the boys and girls of Illinois will enrich their educational experiences.
Participation in interscholastic statewide activities at the elementary and junior high school levels is a privilege unique to young people in Illinois education. The IESA is the only organization throughout the 50 states which is set up to exclusively govern the interscholastic activities of boys and girls at these grade levels in their schools!
School personnel, parents, and students have long recognized and endorsed the role of the IESA, a non-profit, voluntary, tax exempt organization composed of Illinois elementary, middle, and junior high schools. The member schools are represented by their principal or designated representative in providing supervisory control and promotion of the interscholastic activities, both athletic and non athletic, in which students engage. Educators firmly believe that such activities, if properly administered, offer students significant learning experiences, which cannot be duplicated elsewhere in our educational system. The interscholastic activities program must reflect the value that school activities exist for the education of the student body more than for the entertainment of the public. Programs must emphasize the goal of learning over winning and must provide opportunities for a maximum number of students to participate in as many meaningful activities as possible.
The first state athletic tournament was held in Normal in the spring of 1930. Two boys' basketball tournaments were held a lightweight division for those boys under 100 pounds and a heavyweight division. While there have been several changes to the program since 1930, the Association has always attempted to accommodate as many boys and girls as possible. Lightweight and heavyweight divisions have given way to classifications based on grade level and school size. IESA now crowns 46 team champions in 9 different athletic tournaments. Besides Basketball, the following boys' sports are currently offered (first year sport offered in parentheses): Baseball (1955), Cross-Country (1977), Wrestling (1980), Track and Field (1932), Bowling (2011), and Golf (2011).
Girls' athletics became an integral part of the overall program with the advent of Track and Field in 1971. Other girls' sports currently offered include Softball (1978), Cross-Country (1980), Basketball (1979), Volleyball (1976), Bowling (2011), and Golf (2011).
The Association started a cheerleading competition in 2001. Squads may participate in two divisions--a cheer division which includes stunts and tumbling and a routine division which also includes music and choreography. This extremely popular activity is held in January each year with nearly 1,000 participants showcasing their skills.
The first non-athletic activities, fine arts competition in Music (both solo and ensemble and organization) and Literary (now called Speech), were added to the program in 1934 and later expanded to include Art activities. These activities are now one day activities at various sites throughout the state. The extremely popular educational activity, Scholastic Bowl, was initiated in 1988. This activity requires students to answer academically related questions and is conducted in a regional, sectional, and state final format in the spring of each year. Beginning with the 2010-11 school year, a 7th and 8th grade Chess competition was held for the first time and starting with the 2014-15 school year, a 6th grade level of competition was added.
As the membership grew, reaching 100 in 1946, 200 in 1949, 300 in 1956, 400 in 1962, 500 in 1975, 600 in 1995, 700 in 2000, and finally our present membership of 813, all programs and their accompanying rules and regulations for participating schools are constantly evaluated and reorganized when necessary to insure the best participation for students. Each member school is required to follow the IESA Constitution and By Laws as passed by the Board of Directors for those activities in which they choose to participate. Rules and regulations are necessary for a successful activity organization like the IESA. By Laws of the Association pertain to academic status, age, qualifications of coaches, individual limitations, season limitations, and many other matters important to sound administration of junior high activities. These By Laws provide the framework for equitable competition in the interscholastic program.
Membership in the IESA is open to all public and parochial elementary, middle, and junior high schools recognized by the Association. Personnel at member schools have provided the impetus for making IESA contemporary with the times in which we live. Briefly, here is how the democratic process of the Association works:
Board of Directors, consisting of 15 administrators represent each of the 15 membership divisions and are elected by the membership in their divisions for three year terms. The Board determines IESA policies, interprets the rules and regulations and employs staff to aid in administering the programs of the Association. The Board meets four times annually and holds special meetings when necessary. The Board also approves the selection of state tournament sites, prevents the exploitation of contestants by non-educational agencies and their representatives, protects the health and welfare of participants in interscholastic activities, and provides a system for developing interschool relations to their fullest.
Advisory Committees, in the sports of Baseball, Softball, Cross-Country, Basketball, Volleyball, Wrestling, Track and Field, Bowling, and Golf are staffed by boys and girls athletic coaches, administrators, and officials. They play a vital role in the development of each of the athletic state tournament series conducted by IESA, as well as in the relationship of all the programs to the total structure of the Association. These committees meet with the IESA administrator with responsibility for the activity at least once annually to review and make recommendations for changes and improvements in the respective activity programs. In addition there are separate advisory committees for the non-athletic activities: Speech, Music, Scholastic Bowl, Chess and Cheerleading. In 2003, a Sportsmanship Advisory Committee was formed, in 2009 an Officials Advisory Committee was formed to better address the needs of officials throughout the state, and in 2015 the Athletic Director's Advisory Committee was formed.
Mr. Leo Walsh of Toluca served as the Association's first secretary from 1928 until 1942. This position was filled by various school administrators until 1956. At that time, the Association felt a need for a full-time Director to better conduct the Association's business. Since that time, only four men have served in this position: Mr. Leo Correll of Sumner from 1956 to 1967; Mr. Pat Dardano of Normal from 1967 to 1968, Mr. Robert Gatrell of Bloomington from 1968-1996, and Steve Endsley of Bloomington from 1996-present. Endsley first started with the IESA in 1988, when due to the growth of the Association, a second administrative position was created and he became the first ever Assistant Executive Director. He assumed the Executive Director's position in July, 1996. There are three additional administrators, three administrative assistants, one comptroller, and a part-time technology position.
In practice, the IESA is a service organization which works to provide its membership with an overall educationally sound program. The motto of the Association, "Better boys and girls for Illinois through professionally conducted activities", lends credence to its purpose. It is hoped that this state tournament will be exemplary among the Association's activities.