A group of superintendents, athletic directors, coaches and students had a series of meetings last spring in Chapel Hill to attempt to chart the path of public school high school athletics in North Carolina.
The group discussed issues such as funding, education, the difficulties of keeping competition equitable, eligibility issues and the need to continue having outstanding athletics administrators, coaches and officials.
But the biggest challenge that I see facing interscholastic competition in North Carolina and the country is whether our society will continue to value high school athletics as a way to teach values.
High school athletics do many things well, but getting college athletics scholarships for players is something that it doesn’t do very well. About 98 percent of high school athletes do not get college scholarships, according to the NCAA.
Robert F. Kanaby, the former director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said interscholastic athletics will be an important part of the country as long as our society values high school athletics for what it teaches about sportsmanship, integrity, teamwork, self-sacrifice, loyalty and dedication.
If parents are more concerned with scholarships than the things that high school athletics do well, then high school athletics are in trouble.
Soccer, at the highest level, already prohibits many of its top boys from playing on interscholastic teams. Many of the top tennis players and swimmers don’t participate in high school sports, either.
Even in football, the one sport where recruiters still rely on high school play to evaluate players, there is a trend toward evaluations based on combines and camps.
Elite high school athletes attending two, three or more high schools during their careers are not rare as parents and players seek the best place to showcase their athletic ability.
Davis Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner, recently told area superintendents, principals and athletic directors during a regional meeting at N.C. State that the association could ignore problems, find solutions or wait for an outside group to thrust changes upon the association.
Part of the NCHSAA’s strategic plan is to educate the public about the purpose of high school athletics.
Obtaining college athletics scholarships isn’t a part of that purpose.
But the fundamental question is whether society as a whole will continue to seek to use sports as a way to teach values. If the desire for those values disappears, so will funding and so will high school athletics as we know them.
High school athletics has survived and in many cases thrived during difficult periods. But the quest for athletic scholarships may be the most serious threat.