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State legislators should back off trying to run NCHSAA

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By Earl Vaughan Jr.

Whenever I hear a legislative body wants to get involved with high school athletics, I think of stories I’ve heard over the years about small children who accidentally stumble onto paint while their parents aren’t around.

The knowing adults, who represent people who deal with high school sports on a regular basis and know what the real problems are, wander into the room where the child is with the paint and are greeted by the horror of someone who doesn’t really understand what they are doing and has wreaked total havoc on the home’s interior.

I write this as we hear reports coming out of Raleigh that a small but noisy group of state legislators has decided it’s time for the folks in government to force their will on how the N.C. High School Athletic Association in Chapel Hill oversees sports competition at the 421 schools that are voluntary members of the organization.

The legislators seem to think the NCHSAA is sitting on a pile of cash higher than Clingman’s Dome in the Great Smokies and that it’s time they do something about it.

Let’s all just pray somebody gets them back to their senses before the adult versions of that kid with the paint turn high school sports into a painting the late Jackson Pollock wouldn’t recognize.

When I have questions about high school athletics and how to deal with them, I like to turn to experts. In other words, anybody but state legislators. The first person who came to my mind was Dr. William Harrison, who I’ve known and had the pleasure to work with a good portion of my nearly 50 years as a journalist.

Folks around Cumberland County will remember him best as the principal at Terry Sanford High School and former superintendent of the county school system.

He also served as superintendent of Orange and Hoke counties, and was the chairman of the state board of education from 2009-13.

Harrison twice served as president of the NCHSAA, so he knows well how it works, both as its head and as someone who was involved with it as an educator.

Most of the time when the legislature tries to get involved with running the NCHSAA it’s because someone somewhere in North Carolina is upset with a difficult decision that NCHSAA has made and tries to get their local legislative delegation to deal with it.

“It’s unfortunate that every decision they (NCHSAA) make can’t please everybody,’’ Harrison said.

The problem, Harrison said, is the NCHSAA has to take a statewide view of problems and can’t afford to focus on what upsets a single community, a single school system or handful of systems.

“Unfortunately, there are too many people who can’t look beyond their situation,’’ Harrison said. “We need to do that.’’

The Charlotte Observer recently reported that the net assets of the NCHSAA are $40 million and have doubled in the last 10 years.

That is certainly a lot of money but put it in perspective. The Cumberland County Hospital system ranked as the 70th largest business in North Carolina in 2020 according to zippia.com. And its assets are nearly 20 times the NCHSAA’s.

Harrison notes that one major difference between the NCHSAA and the richest bank accounts in the state is that the NCHSAA gives money back to the schools. Last December, in trying to help schools deal with money they’ve lost during the pandemic, the NCHSAA voted to begin distributing $4 million to its membership.

The funds came from the NCHSAA Endowment, a vision of the late Charlie Adams that was created specifically for times like we are experiencing now. “That endowment began with the hope and vision that we would never have to pay for play in North Carolina like they have in other states,’’ Harrison said.

Whenever someone said to Harrison that the NCHSAA needs someone to look over its shoulder and second guess decisions, Harrison quickly advises them otherwise. The reasons are simple. The NCHSAA is not some faceless group in a windowless office in Chapel Hill. The NCHSAA consists of the people who work in the schools: the principals, athletic directors and coaches who are chosen by the membership to serve on the Board of Directors that makes all the major decisions on how money is spent.

There are also affiliate members on the board who offer advice and guidance and are in the room when those money decisions are made. They represent a variety of groups, including the state’s officials, athletic directors, high school coaches, the N.C. School Board Association and the N.C. Department of Public Instruction.

Harrison said it’s a common misconception that Tucker and the office staff of about 20 people are calling all the shots, but the board has the control and that is where it will remain.

He hopes the state legislators will soon realize that and get out of the business of trying to run the NCHSAA and instead focus on things that really need their best efforts.

As he put it, they need to focus on the big stuff and leave this alone.

For one thing, he said, they should put their attention on the long-running Leandro case involving public education. “They need to develop a long-term plan to implement those recommendations and get our schools back on the right track,’’ Harrison said.

“I think there is a whole lot they have to pay attention to that will have a greater impact than their getting involved with the high school athletic association.’’


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