High schools

Stevens: NCHSAA reflects, looks ahead

tstevens@newsobserver.comJanuary 12, 2013 

Pausing occasionally this year to reflect on the history of high school athletics in North Carolina, the N.C. High School Athletic Association kicked off its centennial celebration on Saturday with an event at the Friday Center in Chapel Hill. A special committee will select top-100 lists for male athletes, female athletes, coaches and administrators.

Former state championship teams will be honored for the next 12 months, and the NCHSAA hopes the state’s high school sports legacy will be recognized and appreciated.

“It would not be right to fail to take the opportunity to look back on our history,” said Davis Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner. “The Association isn’t a building or an office in Chapel Hill. The NCHSAA is really the people. This is a chance to appreciate all the people who have done so much for our state through high school athletics.”

Statewide high school athletic competition in North Carolina, and in many other states, grew out of a national movement for universities to move beyond their campuses and help the citizenry.

University libraries were opened to the public. Extension services were established to work with area residents and the universities reached out to high schools by offering resources and instruction.

The first major joint venture between high schools and the University of North Carolina involved high school debate teams, but athletics soon were added. UNC organized the first state high school championship in the state, the boys’ track finals in 1913.

The NCHSAA has developed into a national leader in high school athletic administration. It was the first to have an endowment designed to fund state championships in non-revenue sports and was among the first associations to move championships to major athletic venues, usually on college campuses.

But the centennial celebration isn’t just looking back to celebrate the men, women, boys and girls who built the foundation for high school athletics in the state. A time of reflection also is a chance to review challenges high school athletics have met and consider challenges in the future.

High school competition in North Carolina has survived two World Wars and the Great Depression and played a role in societal changes, including integration and the role of women in society.

“Integration was helped in North Carolina by high school athletics,” said Charlie Adams, the former head of the NCHSAA. “Athletics demand teamwork and respect. The bonds formed between athletes was a factor in bringing the segregated schools together.”

But Bob Kanaby, the former head of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said many of the future challenges might be more difficult than integration or offering athletic opportunities to girls.

“High school athletics always have reflected society and our society is facing challenges,” Kanaby said. “One of the biggest challenges is whether we, as a people, will continue to value the lessons that are taught in high school athletics.”

Adams often worried about whether high school athletics could maintain the perspective that athletics are a part of the educational process. “The programs have to be designed for the millions that play, not for the 100s that get scholarships,” he said. “Colleges struggle with keeping athletics in the proper perspective and I suspect high schools will struggle with it, too.”

Davis agrees high school athletics have challenges, but is encouraged to see what has been accomplished in the past 100 years.

There used to be four state championships, all for boys. Now, the NCHSAA crowns more than 80 state championship teams each year.

The association recently adopted its vision statement: “The NCHSAA will be the national model for developing and inspiring greatness through interscholastic athletic experiences.”

TSTEVENS: 919-829-8910

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