Davis Whitfield has been a great commissioner of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Whitfield, North Carolina-reared and a shining example of the value of interscholastic athletic competition, brought good changes to the association and accomplished tremendous things in his five years atop the group that governs North Carolina high school public school athletics.
His success at the NCHSAA is reflected by the National Federation of State High School Association’s pursuit of him.
“Davis’ opportunity to leave us is due to the fact that he has succeeded in making the NCHSAA a national model,” said Pitt County School athletic director Ron Butler.
David Gentry, the football coach and athletics director at Murphy High, said Whitfield’s accomplishments are remarkable.
“Davis Whitfield has, in a relatively brief time period, made North Carolina one of the front-runners in the country in terms of high school athletics,” Gentry said. “It’s no surprise to me that he received a national-level job offer, because of the great job he exemplified here.”
Whitfield is leaving his own state to become the chief operating officer of the National Federation, the national home of the state associations.
Whitfield can help a lot more children on the national level than he could if he stayed.
But his departure leaves a massive void.
The challenges are so great and solutions so elusive for high school athletics in North Carolina, and throughout the country, that the temptation is to wonder why anyone would want to be the NCHSAA commissioner.
Education is changing. Parents’ expectations are changing. Athletes’ expectations are changing. The legislative environment has changed.
Nationally, legislative bodies have threatened the existence of state associations for enforcing the rules that the schools themselves established.
There is no easy answer to equate competition among a diverse collection of schools whose enrollments vary from about 3,000 to around 150. How do you create a level playing field when one school has almost no students living in poverty and almost every child at another school is?
How do you equate competition between schools that can select their enrollments and other schools who can’t? Can competition be equal if some students can choose a school, but other students are assigned?
Should students at one school, or no school, be allowed to play wherever they want to play? Should interscholastic athletics be adjusted to better serve the quest for a college athletic scholarship by the athletic elite?
Should high school athletics abandon its approach of character-based athletics? Can transgender athletes be fairly treated? What should be the response of coaches and players to criticism in social media? Is harsh language by coaches abusive or motivating?
Should every child have a baseline concussion test? Should every one get a preseason electrocardiogram? What is the proper response to concussion concerns? Should the association mandate that every school have a certified athletic trainer?
Those are the types of questions that Whitfield has pondered during his term at the association. He will carry many of the same questions with him to his new job at the federation.
Whitfield succeeded Charlie Adams, who was regarded as one of the best high school athletic administrators in the country.
Whitfield knew he didn’t have a high school athletic administrator's background, but he was a great listener.
He listened to the schools’ concerns and sought solutions, including returning more and more revenue to the schools. Whitfield embraced the past, leading a 100-year celebration of high school athletics in North Carolina.
But he looked to the future.
The new commissioner will be hard-pressed to accomplish as much in such a short period of time.