April 13, 2015

CHICAGO (AP) The nation's first prep sports governing body to face a class-action concussions lawsuit has asked an Illinois judge to dismiss the suit, arguing that if it prevails, it could kill football programs statewide.

In its 16-page motion filed in Cook County Circuit Court, the Illinois High School Association, or IHSA, says it and its 800 member schools have been proactive about improving head-injury management for the 50,000 football players they oversee each year.

The motion calls the suit ''a misguided effort that threatens high school football.''

The filing is the first full response to the lawsuit - filed in November and slightly amended in January - that seeks court supervision over how high schools manage head injuries. The IHSA filed the response late Friday and provided a copy to The Associated Press.

The filing echoes IHSA Director Marty Hickman's previous comments that court-imposed mandates could make football prohibitively expensive for poorer schools, especially Chicago's public high schools, and lead to ''haves and have nots'' in the sport.

Plaintiff attorney Joseph Siprut has said improving safety should help football survive, not lead to its demise. He said football is already in jeopardy because parents fearful of concussions are refusing to let their kids play, potentially drying up the talent pool.

Siprut, a Chicago-based lawyer, texted a brief comment Monday saying he looked forward to answering the IHSA arguments and to one day ''working with the IHSA to craft a solution to the challenges posed by concussions.''

College and professional football have faced a barrage of class-action lawsuits in recent years. But the one that names the IHSA as defendant is the first of its kind against a high school football governing body. Each of the 50 states has its own governing body.

The IHSA's new filing says it can't be compared to the cash-rich NCAA and NFL. The IHSA has $10 million in yearly revenue to pay for more than 40 sports and activities statewide, and court-imposed mandates could be financially crippling, it argues.

The suit doesn't ask for monetary damages. In addition to court oversight, however, it seeks requirements that medical personnel be at all games and practices. It also calls for the IHSA to pay for medical testing of former high school players extending back to 2002.

The IHSA filing says having a court-administered high school head-injury policy - rather than leaving it to the IHSA, school boards and state legislators - would be unwieldy. It questions how a judge would act as enforcer if a school fails to have a physician at a practice.

''Sanction the IHSA?'' it asks. ''The local school board? The principal? The athletic director? The coaches? All of the above?''

The lead plaintiff, named in the amended suit, is Alex Pierscionek, a South Elgin High School lineman from 2010 to 2014. He says he still suffers memory loss from concussions he received at the suburban Chicago school, one of which led to him being airlifted to an area hospital.

But the IHSA included in its filing papers Pierscionek and a parent signed agreeing ''to assume the full risk'' of injuries. ''Based on his expressed assumption of risk,'' the filing says, ''the plaintiff's claims should be dismissed.''

A status hearing in the case is set for April 23.

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Follow Michael Tarm on Twitter at http://twitter.com/mtarm

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