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IESA: ’We might have to suspend operations, be dormant for a while’

Dave Eminian
Peoria Journal Star
Galva's Ava Strom, right, shouts encouraging words after passing the baton to her teammate Ava Anderson in the seventh grade girls 4x100 relay at Saturday's IESA Sectional. Kendall Rogers and Jennaca Serres joined Anderson and Strom in winning the race in a season-best time of 57.03 seconds.

PEORIA — The Illinois Elementary School Association might have to suspend operations for the first time in its 91-year history as a side-effect of the COVID-19 pandemic regulations in Illinois.

"We are in financial difficulty," longtime IESA executive director Steve Endsley said Wednesday. "We are like any mom-pop business impacted by COVID. We have no income. We're not able to stage tournaments, have any spectators permitted. Without that revenue we can't continue.

"I would say we have enough left to operate for another five or six months. We're not going to fold, no. But there is a chance we might have to hit the pause button. We might have to suspend operations, be dormant for a while."

The impact of the IESA is huge. The organization has 900 member schools and in 2019-20 offered 24 boys and girls sports that generated 156,843 participants.

Endsley says the IESA is operating on an annual budget of about $1.6 million. He says tournament revenue accounts for about $1 million annually.

Each IESA member school pays yearly dues of $100. In addition, each school pays $55 for each team in each sport in which it participates. A school with a boys and girls basketball team, for example, would pay a $110 yearly fee for hoops.

"That of course is not enough to take care of our operating budget," Endsley said. "And the fees for 2020-21 have already been collected. We have enough to keep us going for a few more months. But if we can't have tournaments, we're going to have to take steps."

Suspending operations is one such step. Getting a loan to make ends meet is another.

"To be frank, though, the only asset we have (that can be used) to acquire a loan is our building. And if we go out and get a loan, what good does that do if we still can't have tournaments?" Endsley said. "Tournaments are our lifeblood. And schools are not going to continue paying member fees if there's no benefit from it. We're living on reserves right now."

COVID triggered the loss of volleyball, wrestling and track tournaments for the IESA. Endsley said that accounted for $400,000 in lost revenue.

The IESA had eight full-time employees and a part-time technical person in mid-summer.

Amid the dim financial prognosis, two of those full-time employees left -- seeking job security.

"I don't have the money to replace them," Endsley said. "The bulk of that is covered from revenue gathered by tournaments."

The Illinois Department of Public Health is expected to announce its decision on the status of basketball and other winter sports on Oct. 28.

But a green light to play doesn't necessarily help. The Peoria Rivermen and Quad City Storm (Moline), both in the Southern Professional Hockey League, have opted out of the coming SPHL season because current Illinois state COVID restrictions won't allow more than 50 people to attend an event. And that includes participants. In other words, no fans permitted.

If IDPH does the same with winter sports next week -- allowing games, but only without spectators -- then IESA is still in trouble.

"The side of me that wants kids to get a chance to participate in sports, that is great," Endsley said. "They need it, they need the competition, they need it physically and psychologically.

"But from an IESA organization standpoint, playing without spectators is not good news. We would have all of the expenses of conducting tournaments, with no way of generating revenue.

"It's so sad that an organization like ours, which has operated for 91 years, could be a casualty of COVID-19."