N.C. Senate approves bill that would alter NCHSAA

By Earl Vaughan Jr.

HB91, the bill that would restructure the way the N.C. High School Athletic Association oversees high school athletics for its more than 400 member schools, continued to progress through the General Assembly this week.

On Wednesday, it won approval by the state Senate on a vote of 28-14. All of the yes votes came from Republicans with one exception. The only Democrat to support the bill was Cumberland County Sen. Kirk deViere.

In defending his vote, deViere issued a statement saying that the current version of the bill, which has now undergone six modifications, is dramatically different from the original in that it doesn’t tear down the 100-year old NCHSAA and provides for oversight and transparency on the part of the organization.

“This legislation will ensure the creation of a memorandum of understanding with the State Board of Education and ensures the NCHSAA continues administering high school athletics,’’ deViere said.

He added he has worked with the bill’s sponsors to improve it and will continue working on the bill as it now moves into the state House of Representatives for further action.

“While this bill is not perfect, it is a compromise and one that will ensure that the focus remains on the student athletes,” he said.

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a fellow Democrat who represents Wake County but is from Fayetteville and played for Terry Sanford High School, continued to express opposition to the amended bill.

He agrees the NCHSAA needs reform but expressed disappointment that Senate Republicans rejected an alternative proposal to the bill agreed upon by the NCHSAA and the State Board of Education.

“The Senate sponsors have referred to the NCHSAA, an organization more than 100 years old and that’s administered hundreds of thousands (of) athletic events over the years, as simply a ‘vendor’,’’ Chaudhuri said. “In the process, they’ve dismissed the wisdom and experience of countless athletic directors and coaches who’ve put the student-athlete first.’’

Athletic officials from Cumberland County, who met in a virtual meeting with deViere about the bill some time ago, continue to have serious issues with the legislation and indicated they still do not support its passage in any form.

David Culbreth, student activities director of the Cumberland County Schools, issued a statement Thursday declaring his continued opposition to HB91.

Culbreth
Lindsey

“The concerns brought forward by HB91 do not align with what I have experienced as a representative of the membership of the NCHSAA in Cumberland County,’’ he said. “One of the major strengths of the NCHSAA is that it carries forward the wishes and desires of the majority of our member schools and ultimately strengthens interscholastic programs across the state.’’

Culbreth also said the NCHSAA has been a national model of excellence in interscholastic activities.

Troy Lindsey is the athletic director at Gray’s Creek High School and has 17 years’ experience as a high school athletic administrator. He also serves on the NCHSAA Board of Directors, but he spoke only as a representative of a member school and not as a member of the NCHSAA board.

Lindsey said that about 85 percent of HB91 contains policies already in place in NCHSAA rules. The remainder is language dealing with specific issues addressed by the General Assembly members.

Lindsey said he continues to have specific problems with parts of the bill. One is a demerit system that would replace the current system of fines that the NCHSAA uses to penalize schools for certain rule violations.

“I don’t see how it’s in any way, shape or form deemed something that will cause schools, coaches or athletic directors to have pause about doing something whether they may or may not know it’s a violation,’’ he said.

He noted that if a demerit system were a valid way of meting out punishment, the General Assembly should consider replacing the current system of handing out tickets and fines for speeding violations, a relatively minor offense, with demerits.

“That’s how society works,’’ he said. “There’s usually some type of monetary fine.’’

Lindsey noted that the NCHSAA has long worked with schools even when a fine is assessed, cutting a fine in half if a school self-reports a violation.

He’s also concerned about the bill’s proposal to put each school’s finances under a microscope, requiring detailed annual reports which will increase the paperwork load on school officials and possibly change the amount of dues each school pays.

Another issue is that the governing board of the NCHSAA would be state appointed, partially by the legislature and partially by the governor. Under the current NCHSAA bylaws, the board is elected according to well-defined rules that put a mixture of athletic directors, superintendents and principals on the board from each geographical region of the state. The nominees are then voted on by the full membership of the NCHSAA at the annual meeting.

Lindsey questions how informed the legislature could be in picking random officials from different schools who may lack sufficient experience.

He fears the new method of selecting the board will leave it at the whim of the political winds as he put it. “It breeds inequity,’’ he said.

As expected, leaders of the NCHSAA voiced opposition to the latest version of HB91.

In a written statement, NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker called the most recent edition of the bill unnecessarily prescriptive and said it leaves in place many requirements not in the best interest of the association’s schools or athletes.

Tucker said the legislators have dismissed work that the NCHSAA board members and staff have done that directly address many of the specific issues in HB91.

“If given the opportunity for these items to be heard and viewed, it would demonstrate a willingness on the part of the NCHSAA leadership to address expressed concerns for the betterment of the organization,’’ she said.

Tucker said she is hopeful that the House of Representatives will not follow the lead of its Senate colleagues and will actually look at the work the NCHSAA has done with the State Board of Education in drafting a memorandum of understanding that would clarify the role of the NCHSAA in high school athletics.

In other news Thursday, the NCHSAA continued to address one of the issues the General Assembly had brought forward, the argument that the association is sitting on a $41 million in assets without sharing enough of that amount with its member schools.

In truth, the vast majority of the $41 million is tied up either in the association’s building and property or in donor-related money that can only be spent in specific situations.

The NCHSAA announced Thursday that it has given another $1.7 million to its 427 member schools from the interest earned on the NCHSAA’s Endowed Funds during 2021-21.

This is in addition to the $4 million approved earlier by the Board of Directors as part of the COVID-19 Athletic Program Subsidy.