By Earl Vaughan Jr.
N.C. High School Athletic Association Commissioner Que Tucker, joined by other state high school athletic leaders, held a rare evening Zoom press conference Tuesday to address proposed legislation by the state legislature that would effectively disband the nearly 110-year old organization.
A trio of Republican state senators, Tom McInnis (District 25), Vickie Sawyer (District 34) and Todd Johnson (District 35), presented the bill to the Senate Education committee Tuesday afternoon. The bill, known as HB 91, would effectively disband the NCHSAA and replace it with a commission partly appointed by the governor and the partly by the legislature.
The bill would allow the NCHSAA to continue governing public high school athletics through the 2021-22 school year, then phase in the new leadership structure in 2022-23.
Joining Tucker on the call were Jerry Simmons, the immediate past president of the NCHSAA, current NCHSAA vice-president Rob Jackson, Mac Morris of the N.C. Coaches Association and N.C. Athletic Director’s Association executive director Roy Turner.
Simmons is principal at New Bern High School while Jackson is superintendent of Carteret County Schools.
Tucker called the General Assembly proposal a full-scale attack on the NCHSAA’s ability to govern high school athletics. She added that any threat of a legislative takeover of the NCHSAA could not be in the best interest of the student-athletes of the NCHSAA.
Tucker refuted claims made during the hearing before the Education Committee that the NCHSAA has refused to respond to legislative requests for information on the state of its finances.
Tucker said she initially declined because the NCHSAA is a member-driven organization and she did not feel she had the authority to release the information. Once granted permission, she said she shared financial details requested by McInnis, Johnson and Sawyer.
“To say we have been uncooperative is simply untrue,’’ she said.
After an initial private meeting with Sawyer, McInnis and Johnson, Tucker said she was invited to a committee meeting in April this year, but has not had any further requests to meet with anyone in the legislature to discuss the situation.
“We have wanted to work with the General Assembly, but we can only do that when we are invited to come to the table and share information so we can work together in a partnership,’’ she said.
During the Zoom call, Morris, Turner and Simmons all came to the defense of Tucker and the NCHSAA Morris said the Board of Directors voted unanimously this past weekend to support the association.
Turner said he had read HB 91 and called it unrealistic to see how the proposed reorganization of the NCHSAA would work. “I think no one understands all of the moving parts of this organization,’’ he said.
Simmons said he was hurt by the attacks the legislature is hurling at educators like himself who serve on the NCHSAA Board of Directors, the voting body elected by the member schools that makes the major decisions of the organization.
Tucker thinks one thing that has upset the legislators is the NCHSAA’s enforcement of penalties and the levying of fines to schools for violating its rules.
“People do not like to be said ‘no’ to,’’ Tucker said. “That’s part of what’s happened as we’ve gone along.’’
The NCHSAA has also been criticized for having too much money in its coffers, with a figure of close to $40 million frequently mentioned.
Tucker said not all of that money is available for spending as some is tied up in the NCHSAA property as well as other money committed to specific areas like the NCHSAA Endowment.
“They want that money to be spent in a faster manner,’’ Tucker said. “People just do not understand endowments in general and we have to do a better job on our end.’’
Jackson stressed that the NCHSAA is a member-driven organization, and in his time on the Board of Directors conversations have focused exclusively on doing what’s best for the student-athletes.
“I believe in the high school athletic association,’’ he said. “There’s something to be said for tradition. But that’s not to say we don’t learn, grow and improve.’’