Carolyn Shannonhouse never knew why Charlie Adams, then the executive director of the N.C. High School Athletic Association, sought her when the NCHSAA decided to add its first female commissioner.
“I saw him at some games,” Shannonhouse said. “Maybe he liked the way I coached.”
Shannonhouse, who is retiring this month from the NCHSAA after 28 years, was the girls’ basketball coach in 1986 at Cary High, Adams’ alma mater and where he began his coaching career.
Adams wasn’t there to watch the games or pull for the Imps. He knew the NCHSAA soon would add its first female staff member, someone ho would administer the girls’ athletic programs. Adams believed the hire would be one of the most important he would ever make.
“We had to get this one right,” Adams said recently. “We were going to greatly expand our women’s program and I knew there was going to be some resistance to that. We needed the right person in that chair.”
Adams talked to coaches, administrators, officials, principals and superintendents. Many of them mentioned Shannonhouse, who had a 125-60 career mark in girls’ basketball coaching at Cary.
“I wanted to see for myself,” said Adams, who was succeeded by Davis Whitfield in 2010. “The thing that stood out about Carolyn was that she was always professional. Everything she did or said she did in a professional manner.”
Debbie Antonelli, a college basketball analyst for ESPN, CBS and Fox, played for Shannohouse on a team that reached the NCHSAA Class 4A title game in 1981.
“The thing about Coach Shannonhouse was that there was never any doubt that she cared more about you as a person than as a player,” said Antonelli, who was later a standout at N.C. State. “She was a great coach who always stressed that you could be competitive and fight to win and still have the right values.”
Her Cary teams hold occasional reunions to maintain their bonds.
“We are still that close,” Antonelli said. “She was just a very special coach. I was extremely lucky to have Shanny and Kay Yow (at N.C. State) as my coaches. They are two of the best people I have known.”
Shannonhouse’s last official day will be July 31, although she will work part-time through December to help get the fall and winter sports seasons started.
“I really don’t know what I’m going to do. Hopefully, there will be a lot more family time,” said Shannonhouse, who has an adult daughter and grandchildren. “It has been a great 28 years.”
Title IX, which says schools receiving federal financial aid cannot discriminate based on gender, had been in force for more than 10 years when Shannonhouse joined the NCHSAA staff, but there was still resistance to women’s athletics.
“It was going to take a special person and I knew in my heart of hearts, that she was the best person for the job,” Adams said. “I think history has proven me right. Carolyn has become one of the very best athletic administrators in the country. She was the perfect hire for us.”
Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner, said Shannonhouse is a consensus builder.
“She comes to work with the best attitude every day,” Whitfield said. “Her concern is always for what is best for the boys and girls of our state and is never on what is best for her.
“She is a tremendous ambassador for interscholastic athletes and all the positive things we stand for – integrity, leadership, fair play, self-sacrifice, dedication and hard work.”
The NCHSAA had not had a championship for girls until golf (1969) and tennis (1970) were added. Basketball, track and swimming had playoffs in 1972, slow-pitch softball in 1975, volleyball in 1976 and fast-pitch softball in 1994.
The program still was in its infancy when Shannonhouse joined the staff in 1986. Most girls’ NCHSAA championships were open, meaning that there was one state title, not separate championships for the association’s four classifications.
“If there is one thing that I am most pleased with, it is the growth of opportunities for our boys and girls,” Shannonhouse said. “That has been such a good thing. When I got here the only sports that were fully classified were football, baseball and basketball.
“Now all the sports except golf, lacrosse and indoor track are full classified. We have gone from championships in 10 boys’ sports and seven girls’ sports to 12 and 11. Our boys and girls have many more opportunties.
“To me, that is the best part.”
Shannonhouse has seen girls’ sports go from being accepted to being embraced.
“The girls are such a big part of the program,” she said.
Robert Kanaby, former executive director of the National Federation of State High School Associations, said the NCHSAA and other state associations adding girls’ programs was the best thing that has been done for athletics in the country.
“The impact of girls high school athletics is felt throughout our country at every level,” Kanaby said last year. “The NCHSAA was at the forefront of that movement, showing other state associations how it should be done.”
Adams, the former NCHSAA executive, said Shannonhouse was a big part of that national movement.
“Carolyn worked for the boys and girls,” Adams said. “She saw the value in what she was doing and never let up.”