This Is Our Why
The Illinois Elementary School Association (IESA) is the only organization throughout all 50 states that is set-up to exclusively govern and administer athletic and non-athletic activities at the middle/jr. high school level. Every state has a state high school association, but Illinois is the only state that has an association that is separate from the state’s high school association. Participation in interscholastic statewide activities at the middle/junior high school level is a privilege unique to young people in Illinois education. Since our humble beginning in 1928 when eight schools decided that grade school students should have opportunities to compete in a season ending tournament like high school students were doing, our mission, our purpose, our why has remained constant---to provide opportunities to the boys and girls of Illinois that will enrich their educational experiences. Today, there are over 900 IESA member schools that believe in providing those opportunities for their students so they grow and learn from their participation in interscholastic activities.
The first IESA tournament of any kind was held in Normal in the spring of 1930. There were two boys basketball tournaments held---a lightweight division for those boys under 100 pounds and a heavyweight division. While there have been several changes to the program since that first basketball tournament, those changes have always attempted to accommodate as many students as possible. For example, the lightweight and heavyweight divisions have given way to classifications based on grade level (7thgrade and 8th grade) 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 offered in parentheses): Track and Field (1932), Baseball (1955), Cross-Country (1979), Wrestling (1980), 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 Volleyball (1976), Softball (1978), Basketball (1979), Cross-Country (1980), Bowling (2011), and Golf (2011).
Cheerleading was introduced to the ever-growing list of activities when the first ever competition was held in 2001.
Fine arts activities were added to the list of activities in 1934 with the addition of music solo and ensemble contests, music organization contests, and speech contests. These activities are now one day activities held at various sites throughout the state. The extremely popular educational activity, Scholastic Bowl, was initiated in 1988 and a Chess competition was added in 2011.
As you can tell, our students participate in a variety of interscholastic activities. By providing these opportunities, students become involved with their school, they learn about sportsmanship, rules, maintain higher grade point averages, and become better citizens. In addition, lifetime memories are made and cherished.
School administrators, who have the responsibility to make sure their schools abide by the rules and regulations of the IESA, are the backbone of the Association. Without their willingness to have their school become an IESA member school, students would not have these opportunities.
Coaches and Directors use the courts, fields, mats, tracks, band rooms, and contest venues as their classroom. The lessons taught are often ones that cannot be duplicated in a classroom. Life lessons are the outcome when students participate in activities. Coaches are role models who teach much more than offense and defense.
Contest officials play an integral role in the overall administration of the IESA program. First and second year officials in particular get a chance to work our level of play and gain valuable experience before moving on to the high school ranks and beyond. Veteran officials are able to work games at our level into their schedule to help them mentor younger officials. Many seasoned officials continue to work both the high school and middle/jr. high school level throughout their officiating careers.
We are proud to say that many collegiate athletes, professional athletes and even Olympic athletes started their athletic careers by participating in IESA activities. Jim Thome, a member of the 2019 Baseball Hall of Fame Class, played for Peoria Pleasant Hill when they advanced to the IESA basketball finals in 1983. Ben Zobrist, a two-time World Series champion and 2016 World Series MVP, led his Eureka Middle School team to the IESA baseball finals in 1995. Ogonna Nnamani is a two-time member of the U.S. Olympic women’s volleyball team (2004 & 2008) after an outstanding collegiate career at Stanford where she was named the National Player of the Year in 2004. She attended Normal Metcalf Grade School where she starred in basketball leading her team to the IESA finals in 1995. Ironically, volleyball was an afterthought and she only tried out for volleyball as the result of some encouragement from her coach. Little did she know that volleyball would be her ticket to life changing opportunities. Ogonna is now Dr. Nnamani Silva having obtained her medical degree from the University California San Francisco. Jorge Torres, who attended Prospect Heights MacArthur Middle School, won the 2002 NCAA Men’s Division 1 Cross-Country Championship before representing the United States in the 2008 Summer Olympics. He dominated the IESA cross country program as a 7th and 8th grader becoming the first runner in IESA history to break the 10 minute mark for the two mile event. Kristin Wurth-Thomas also participated in the 2008 Summer Olympics running in the women’s 1500 meter event. Wurth-Thomas attended Chiddix Jr. High School in Normal. Meyers Leonard played in the 2006 IESA state basketball finals for Robinson Nuttall. Meyers was the 11th overall pick in the 2012 NBA draft and started in the 2020 NBA Finals for the Miami Heat. A trio of Springfield athletes played in the IESA before moving on to outstanding careers in the NBA. Ed Horton and Kevin Gamble both played junior high basketball for Springfield Washington. Horton played for the Washington Bullets (now Wizards) after being drafted in the 2nd round of the 1989 draft. Gamble had a terrific 10 year NBA career playing with the Portland Trail Blazers, Boston Celtics, Miami Heat, and Sacramento Kings. During his days at Boston he played with Larry Bird and Kevin McHale. Gamble scored over 6,000 points during his NBA career. Andre Iguodala played jr. high basketball for Springfield Franklin. Iguodala was the 9th overall pick of the Philadelphia 76ers where he made the all rookie team his first year. Since his time in Philadelphia he has played for the Denver Nuggets, the Golden State Warriors, and is currently playing for the Miami Heat. He was a three-time NBA champion with the Warriors and was named MVP of the NBA finals in 2015. While these are just a handful of former IESA athletes that have attained the highest levels of success, there are literally millions of students throughout the 90 year history of IESA who started their athletic and activity careers at our level. We are proud that we have been able to provide opportunities for all students. Sadly and unfortunately, these opportunities could all come to pause.
The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on the IESA. We do not receive any funds from the state of Illinois. We are not a state agency. Most of our operating funds are the result of attendance at the state series events. As those events have been cancelled because of the pandemic, the Association has been crippled by the revenue loss. No championships were held for volleyball, wrestling, and track and field in the spring of 2020 which resulted in a loss of $440,000. There were no golf, baseball, softball, cross country, and girls basketball championships in the fall of 2020 and as of this writing it does not appear as though championships in any sport will be held for the remainder of the 2020-21 school year. That will cause a nearly 1.5-million-dollar deficit to the Association’s budget. We simply cannot survive that kind of financial hit and continue to operate. In fact, we won’t survive. Without any significant income, we are spending our reserves and those reserves will likely run out in April. Once they are gone, so too will the very Association that has been providing opportunities for middle school and junior high school students for 90 years.
We have done so much for so many students in our 90-year history. IESA has provided each and every one something so unique to this country. We need your help if we are going to be able to continue to be the middle/jr. high school leader in education-based activities and provide opportunities for students. Any donation made will help to insure we can continue to do what we do better than anyone. Not only is the future of the Association at stake but so too are the hopes and dreams for students across Illinois who attend an IESA member school.
Perhaps you participated in an IESA activity; perhaps your children participated; perhaps you coached or officiated at this level, or perhaps you are just a fan of interscholastic activities. If you believe in the mission of the IESA, I hope you will make a gift so we can continue to operate, By doing so, not only will we continue to offer championships but more importantly, we will continue to provide opportunities for boys and girls across our state to represent their school and enrich their lives through participating in education-based activities. Every donation will have an impact. We need your support! Thank you.