General Assembly’s campaign against NCHSAA continues

By Earl Vaughan Jr.

Like an annoying bad tooth or a troublesome pebble in a shoe, the General Assembly’s HB91 just won’t go away. Neither will the disinformation campaign of the bill’s major supporters.

If you haven’t been keeping up, HB91 is a bill that originally dealt with autism but was gutted and rewritten to eliminate the N.C. High School Athletic Association and replace it with a state-appointed commission.

It appears that criticism of the bill as constituted has gotten back to its primary sponsors, because on Thursday they presented a retooled version of the bill to the state senate’s education/higher education standing committee.

The revised bill would allow the NCHSAA to continue but would put severe restrictions on how it governs the state’s high schools as well as reining in the association’s ability to make money.

For the third straight time at a committee hearing, no representatives of the NCHSAA were invited to speak to the committee during the hearing. Their only opportunity for a voice was to sign up to speak as members of the public, where they were given all of two minutes each to respond to nearly 90 minutes of bashing from the Republicans pushing the bill.

One of the few voices of reason in the room was Sen. Gladys Robinson, a Democrat from Guilford County.

Robinson made solid points regarding flaws in the proposed bill. So did a series of high school athletic administrators who spoke out against the bill during the public comment stage. They agreed the bill has some ideas worth adopting, but as a whole labeled it a harmful piece of legislation for high school athletics in North Carolina.

The most troubling aspect of the day’s proceedings was the outright lack of understanding the legislators have about the NCHSAA and how it operates, and their obvious attempts to politicize the issue by sharing only points that supported their cause and trying to cast aspersions at the NCHSAA whenever possible.

A case in point was Sen. Todd Johnson of Union County asking NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker if she had sought the permission of her Board of Directors to speak on the association’s half. Tucker indicated she hadn’t, but in followup questioning, Sen. Robinson of Guilford confirmed that Tucker has that authority written in the bylaws of the NCHSAA.

Sen. Tom McInnis of Richmond County also got in a dig at the frequent observation that the NCHSAA has operated for more than 100 years without major objection from its member schools. McInnis pointed out that several years ago, the NCHSAA ended its long association with the University of North Carolina system and became a separate organization.

What McInnis failed to mention was that leaders of the UNC system were the ones who initiated that move. The NCHSAA had no objection to staying under the UNC umbrella. It was UNC officials themselves who cut the NCHSAA adrift.

But the biggest joke of the day by far was the repeated assertion of Sen. Vickie Sawyer of Iredell County that the senators pushing HB91 have been open and honest with the NCHSAA, frequently reaching out to them and all but begging the NCHSAA to respond.

In this case, actions speak far louder than words. Since HB91 started, NCHSAA staff has been invited to one committee meeting when the cameras were on and people could see what was happening and make decisions for themselves.

When the senators sat down to redo HB91, they consulted with the state board of education and no one else. Yes, they did hold a meeting with NCHSAA representatives in July, but none of them were in the room to offer comments when the law was rewritten.

At the end of the day, the entire impetus for this bill comes from Sen. McInnis, who was angry that one of his constituent schools, Anson County, was kicked out of the 2019 state football playoffs for having too many players ejected from a single game.

McInnis eventually got Johnson of Union County and Sawyer of Iredell to join his vendetta, and with little exception that trio has continued to carry the flag on this ridiculous cause.

One thing that strikes me odd about all of this is the way that politicians on either side of the aisle go out of their way to compliment each other for their “hard work” even if that work is being done in the name of an absurd bill.

When we talk about this kind of “hard work,” I’m reminded of the woman who was an amateur gardener.  She spent an entire day working in her backyard, fertilizing her extensive lawn, only to realize when the day was done that she had mistakenly put cement and not fertilizer on her grass.

That’s exactly the kind of “hard work” the legislators pushing this bill have been doing, and if they are successful, we’ll be stuck with a hard truth just as useless as that woman’s lawn.