November 26, 2021


'I am very hopeful that somehow the IESA can weather this pandemic'

Local school officials react to IESA's financial crisis, fundraising efforts

For two decades, Greg Peterson has been athletic director and a boys basketball coach at Fieldcrest Middle School.

During that time, he’s seen the positive impact the Illinois Elementary School Association can have on middle school athletics and activities.

“I’ve hosted more regionals, sectionals and state tournaments than I can count,” Peterson said. “We have been fortunate enough to participate in, and enjoy success in, these tournaments. Our kids have even experienced the thrill of placing and winning state championships. Without the IESA, none of those memories would have been made. The IESA also promotes academic success and good sportsmanship.

“I’m not going to say that the IESA is perfect in everything they do, and I’m sure they would agree. But, they really do try to do what’s in the best interest of our student-athletes.”

In a few months, the IESA may not be around to help students make memories or promote academics and sportsmanship.

With sports seasons and state tournaments canceled over the last nine months due to the COVID-19 pandemic, the IESA is facing a severe financial crisis.

This week, the IESA set up a GoFundMe account in hopes of saving the organization.

“The COVID-19 pandemic has had a devastating financial impact on the IESA,” the organization wrote on the GoFundMe page. “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.”

The IESA said the loss of volleyball, wrestling and track and field championships in the spring cost the organization $440,000 and estimates the loss of golf, baseball, softball, cross country and girls basketball in the fall along with the presumed loss of winter sports will cause a nearly $1.5 million deficit to the budget.

The GoFundMe page said the IESA is spending its reserves and the association anticipates running out of money by April without help.

“Over the years, I have made many friends in that office and I know it breaks their hearts to make the decisions they've had to make,” Peterson said. “I just hope and pray that our sports, the way we compete, and the way the IESA provides for kids, can resume as close to normal as possible and as soon as possible.”

Officials at area schools that compete in IESA athletics are hoping the organization can find a way through the crisis.

“We believe that the mission of the IESA, as listed on their website, is noble and in line with what we want for all of our student-athletes at Putnam County,” Putnam County athletic director Chris Newsome said. “It is unfortunate that the pandemic has caused such a negative financial impact on the IESA. We feel that the framework they provide regarding student safety, equity and opportunity are all positive benefits of the IESA. We hope that they will be able to continue operating and providing these benefits for many years to come.”

The organization’s GoFundMe, called The COVID-19 Impact on the IESA, set a goal of $500,000.

As of Friday afternoon, the fundraiser has brought in $17,460.

“The association works hard on behalf of school districts across the state and we have benefitted from their work on the local level,” Princeton Elementary School superintendent Tim Smith said. “It is my hope that the IESA can sustain itself during this very difficult time so that it can continue to make a positive impact for students at the elementary level across the state.”

Dave Knottnerus, Northbrook athletic director, said he hopes the IESA can get some corporate help.

“I know it is a really trying time for the IESA,” Knottnerus said. “Missing out on all the tournament revenue is going to be hard to come back from. I hope the word gets out about the GoFundMe page. I would also hope some of the companies that the IESA promotes (Rawlings, The Cubby Hole, Royal Publishing, etc.) would be able to donate to the cause.”

Northbrook only competes in the IESA for boys and girls track and field, but Knottnerus said he hopes the organization can survive.

“We enjoy participating in the IESA sectional because we get to compete against schools we don't normally get to see,” Knottnerus said. “The IESA State Track Meet is always well run and organized. I am very hopeful that somehow the IESA can weather this pandemic and be able to come back and be the important organization that they always have been.”