The high school sports writers of The News & Observer recently huddled to talk about one of the hottest topics among interscholastic sports officials in the country. How to handle the growth in adaptive track and field athletics?
A. The NCHSAA counts points scored by athletes with disabilities in the overall team scores in track. Should the points count ? Should they count if there is only one person entered in an event?
D. Clay Best, Smithfield Herald: There’s no easy answer to this. But to me the definition of a true team sport is one that requires opposition in order to determine a winner. In track’s case, that means more than one person competing in a race if there’s going to be a winner. But at the same time, you can’t penalize talented athletes because there’s no one else willing to do what they do competitively. So I guess this one’s too complicated for me.
W.E. Warnock: Should the points count? This is by far the easiest question to answer about adaptive sports in NCHSAA events. The points have to count. Every high school student in North Carolina deserves the chance to compete. Even if only one person enters an event, those points have to count. (Don’t we award points to a wrestling team if the opponent forfeits at a certain weight?)
J. Mike Blake: Yes. Remember, in some events, the racer must meet a national standard to score a point (but the standard is so generous that they almost always do).
Aaron Moody, Eastern Wake News: Clearly, the points should count. All athletes should be rewarded for their efforts, not just some athletes. But I’m not sure of a good work around for the fact an unopposed athlete has the potential to decide the outcome of team standings in a championship. It seems like that situation could end in a lot of finger pointing and poor sportsmanship.
B. Should there be two state titles – overall and overall plus disabled points?
Best: Absolutely not. More state champions is not what we need in team competitions.
Warnock: In contrast to the first question, this is the thorniest issue in all of N.C. high school sports right now. A poll of N.C. track coaches after last year’s NCHSAA championships revealed the membership’s emotional and deep division on how to weight adaptive event points.
The poll showed a clear plurality among three choices – 46.9 percent favoring a separate adaptive championship (in a single classification), 31.8 in favor of the current system of factoring in the points like any other, and 21.2 in favor of awarding two state championships in meets where the adaptive points prove to be a decisive factor. Proponents of the current system have a devastating response to the first and third options cited: Remember “separate but equal” in education? How’d that work out? And they cite a January 2013 Dear Colleague Letter from the Office for Civil Rights, which reminds public schools that, under the Rehabilitation Act of 1973: “In providing or arranging for the provision of extracurricular athletics, a school district must ensure that a student with a disability participates with students without disabilities to the maximum extent appropriate to the needs of that student with a disability. The provision of unnecessarily separate or different services is discriminatory.”
Moody: That kind of takes the meaning out of the whole idea behind winning “a championship,” and frankly that would still create a great deal of division among the athletes.
Blake: Not two titles, but co-titles. If a team wins a title and adaptive points are the difference in who wins a state championship, like it was last year in 4A, it should be a co-title. Remember, in most years there is no need for this. Adaptive points have only helped a team to the title once. I’m shocked so few track coaches were in favor of this commonsense solution. It’s not uncommon to see a co-title in track.
We can’t, on one hand, make the points count and then, on the other, discount that there is a small competitive advantage for a team that can enter additional events. That’s simple math. Saying that a dual-title would degrade adaptive athletes’ points rings hollow with me. Without those points, the school would not be in a position for a co-title or any title. They can still improve a team’s overall standing from third place to second and so on. The championship trophy still says “state champion” – no asterisk. Nothing is cheapened by awarding a co-title in these potential situations.
Tim Stevens, The News & Observer: Two titles would be a bad solution. I don’t like telling kids that their points count and they are helping the team ... unless your points help us win a state title. Nobody changed the way the championship meet was scored at the last minute. Everybody knew the format. One school. One team. One title.
The comparison is inexact, but complaining about counting the scores of events for students with disabilities is like track coaches fussing about the points scored when the girls pole vault was included.
C. Should the NCHSAA establish more competition for athletes with disabilities? Titles in tennis, swimming, etc.
Best: I think that’s the next logical step. The issue for schools will become funding at a time when most of them are struggling to keep up with the needs of their current athletic offerings. Still, I’m sure there’s a way to do it. The measure in the legislature is a great starting point.
Warnock: The NCHSAA is always looking for more opportunities to increase student participation in athletics. The key is finding a critical mass of students and schools to form a NCHSAA-sanctioned championship. In this respect, by necessity, the NCHSAA has a laissez-faire approach. It never dictates, but instead responds to the wishes of its members. The NCHSAA has no mechanism to force schools to create programs. It remains up to each school system to provide as many opportunities for its potential student-athletes as possible.
Moody: Certainly not separate titles. More competition for athletes with disabilities sounds like a reasonable idea, but one that will be driven based on interest and necessity. You can’t deny any one athlete the right to participate. But, again, it is a sticky situation figuring out how to incorporate the adaptive sports, keep everyone happy and treat all the athletes fairly.
Blake: I don’t see this as an NCHSAA issue. The opportunities to play have more to do with the schools themselves. To date, instead of new programs or separate championships, we have had some inspirational stories. Garner once had a blind swimmer and Athens Drive a blind long jumper. Special needs students have scored in varsity basketball and football games. I’ve seen someone with dwarfism swim and another who had just one leg. Wakefield’s starting linebacker was born without the use of his arm. If a need for a new championship arises within the schools, the NCHSAA will act accordingly. But I think even without it, we’ve been inspired by those who are competing against everyone else.
Stevens: I suspect there will be added opportunities for children with special needs very soon. The next big debate may be how to pay for the new opportunities.