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It’s time for a truce between General Assembly and NCHSAA


By Earl Vaughan Jr.

I hate when the world of high school athletics crosses paths with the world of elected government officials. Anytime that’s happened, it’s usually because someone is upset about something, and they’re seeking extreme measures to solve a problem.

Such is the case with the current flap between some Republican members of the North Carolina General Assembly and the N.C. High School Athletic Association. A group of senators introduced a bill, HB 91, that would effectively dismantle the NCHSAA and replace it with a commission of 17 people appointed by the governor and the General Assembly.

I spoke with someone who used to work closely with the General Assembly who asked to remain anonymous. Much of the fuss seems to be because the NCHSAA has been well run for most of its 110 years and has a healthy balance sheet.

“The concern about the association’s net worth and savings came from people who can’t read a balance sheet and don’t know the advantages of having reserves and unrestricted recurring interest income, something the proposed state agency will not have,’’ he said.

At the one committee meeting that NCHSAA staff members were invited to attend, legislature members were short and sometimes plain rude when the staff was trying to explain the NCHSAA position. I recall a specific case where Karen DeHart of the NCHSAA staff was stopped mid-answer by a committee member.

My source said committee meetings like these are carefully scripted to make sure the narrative is controlled to do maximum damage to the target of the meeting.

“The Association was doomed from the get-go,’’ my source said.

The person behind most of the dispute is Sen. Tom McInnis, who represents Richmond, Anson and Moore counties.

His beef started two years ago when the Anson football team was kicked out of the NCHSAA playoffs after winning its first conference championship in 10 years.

Anson violated a rule adopted by the NCHSAA that says if you have three players ejected for fighting in a single game or six in a sports season, your team is ineligible for the state playoffs.

Anson and Richmond Senior had an on-field fight in their second game of the 2019 season that was halted at halftime because, as Anson head coach Ralph Jackson said in an interview with WSOC-TV, things had gotten chippy and the coaches mutually agreed to stop the game.

During the same interview, Jackson admitted his players were in the wrong. Here is his quote, word for word, from the WSOC interview.

“I want these guys to understand and know if you did something, own up to it. Be a man about it. And I can stand in front of you right now and tell you my guys made a mistake.’’

It is time for Sen. McInnis and his senate compatriots, along with NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker and her staff, to do the same thing.

The days of bluster and trading angry comments need to end. There is wrong on both sides. The legislature has grossly overreacted by threatening to blow up the NCHSAA and start from scratch.

The impact on high school athletics in North Carolina would be devastating, which is reflected by the fact that organizations like the N.C. Athletic Directors Association, the N.C. Coaches Association, the National Federation of State High School Associations and numerous athletic leaders in this state that I’ve known and respected for years have issued statements in full support of the NCHSAA.

At the same time, having covered the association for nearly half a century as a journalist, I’m keenly aware this is by no means a perfect organization. There are areas in which they need to be more flexible and more sympathetic to the needs of the 427 member schools.

It’s not going to be easy to fix things. There are complex questions like making the playing field level when you have public, private and charter schools in your membership. And the question of how to set rules for schools of various sizes, from close quarters in populated urban areas to remote locations in the mountains or the coastal plain.

I don’t have all the answers, but I echo the comments I heard Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Terry Sanford graduate who’s now a senator from Wake County, who serves on the Senate Education Committee.

Everybody needs to slow down. The Republicans are rushing this through and only telling one side of the NCHSAA story. The NCHSAA wasn’t even invited to attend the last two hearings on the bill, and their only chance to respond was the two minutes given to assistant commissioner James Alverson who signed up to speak as a member of the public.

The NCHSAA deserves credit for the good it has done.

But nothing is going to get fixed until both parties bury the axes and get into a room together to have meaningful discussions. So, somebody please hit the brakes so everyone can sit down for a positive give and take.

Both sides say they are all about doing what’s right for the student-athlete. Prove it by ending the feud and correcting the situation.

• Congratulations to former Douglas Byrd High School and Clemson University football standout Donnell Woolford, who will be among a class of 11 inductees this evening into the North Carolina Sports Hall of Fame.

Woolford, who played on some of Coach Bob Paroli’s best Eagle football teams at Byrd, was a consensus All-American playing for Danny Ford at Clemson in 1988. He spent 10 seasons in the NFL, most of them with the Chicago Bears but also playing with Pittsburgh and the Carolina Panthers at the end of his career.

As part of the team’s centennial in 2019, Woolford was voted one of the top 100 Bears of all time.

Being inducted with Woolford are broadcaster Debbie Antonelli, North Carolina football coach Mack Brown, North Carolina track and cross country coach Dennis Craddock (posthumously), Burlington physician Dr. Charles Kernodle Jr. (posthumously), retired Greensboro Page basketball coach Mac Morris, former New Hanover and Boston Red Sox baseball star Trot Nixon, North Carolina and Carolina Panthers great Julius Peppers, former Wolfpack Club executive Bobby Purcell, former UNC-Charlotte athletic director Judy Rose and retired Raleigh sports writer Tim Stevens.

• Fayetteville’s participants in this week’s East-West All-Star games in Greensboro had a difficult time, compiling a record of 0-2-1 in the three games in which they participated. Here’s a quick recap:

Girls’ basketball - Monday night, the West girls handed the East an 87-66 defeat. Playing in the game from Fayetteville were Jack Britt’s Ashara Hayes and E.E. Smith’s Jordan Everett.

Hayes had eight rebounds, four points, two assists, four blocks and two steals. 

Everett had 11 rebounds, eight points, one assist and one steal.

Girls’ soccer - The East and West teams battled to a 1-1 tie Tuesday evening. Isaac Rancour of Pine Forest was the head coach of the East while one of his Pine Forest players, Avery Vorholt, was on the East squad.

Football - East assistant coach Jake Thomas of Cape Fear and five Fayetteville players were dealt a 7-0 loss by the West in the final All-Star game of the week Wednesday night.

South View’s Joshua George had one kickoff for the East team that went 32 yards.

All the other East players from Fayetteville were on defense. Donta Autry of South VIew had two solo tackles, two assists, a half a sack and one tackle for loss.

Micah Nelson of Cape Fear had two solo tackles, one assist and half a tackle for loss.

Blake Paul of Pine Forest had two solo tackles. Xavier Johnson of Pine Forest had two assists and half a tackle for loss.