Two Wake County high school athletic conferences have changed their bylaws to prohibit their member schools from playing non-public schools, including non-boarding parochial schools such as Cardinal Gibbons High, that are members of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
Athletic directors from the Cap-8 4A and Southwest Wake Athletic 4A Conference amended their respective league bylaws after Cardinal Gibbons asked in December for the NCHSAA to move it from the 3A alignment to 4A.
Gibbons, which has won more N.C. High School Athletic Association state championships than any other member school as a 2A and 3A school since joining the association in 2005, asked the NCHSAA to move it from the 3A to 4A ranks, citing an increased enrollment.
The request was granted in December and the Crusaders will play in the PAC-6 4A beginning in the fall. The conference has welcomed Gibbons.
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SWAC president Mike Dunphy, the Cary High athletic director, said the league was unanimously in favor of the vote.
“We have a lot of kids that should probably be going to public schools that are choosing to go to private schools instead,” Dunphy said. “We just felt it wasn’t fair to our student body and our athletes to compete against those schools when we don’t have to.”
Dunphy said the SWAC and Cap-8 schools are not in favor of having non-public schools in the association.
“We’re not in favor of private schools or non-boarding parochial schools being part of what in essence is a public-school league,” Dunphy said. “If that’s your choice, that’s your choice. They don’t need to be a part of a public-school league, they don’t need to be a part of what we’re doing in our conference.”
The N.C. High School Athletic Association and Wake County Public Schools System allow conferences to set their own bylaws. However, the NCHSAA will likely evaluate such bans in the future.
The rule, which the SWAC passed in December and the Cap-8 passed in March, exempts events where schools cannot choose opponents, such as invitationals and the playoffs. Events already under contract can be played.
School athletic directors make their own non-conference schedules, but Dunphy said the bylaw change was needed to ensure the policy would remain in effect if schools were to change athletic directors. The Cap-8 has had a bylaw banning its schools from playing independent private schools, but the prohibition now includes the non-boarding parochial schools that are NCHSAA members.
“Part of me could understand if they said to Ravenscroft ‘We’re not going to play you,’” said Gibbons football coach Steven Wright. “But we’re a member of the N.C. High School Athletic Association just like they are,”
“We’re in good standing. This decision has been made, not because of North Raleigh Christian Academy. It was made because of Cardinal Gibbons. It’s not hard to put 2-and-2 together.”
In the 10 years since re-joining the NCHSAA in 2005, after almost two decades away, Gibbons has won more NCHSAA championships (55) than any other school in the state.
Rowan County called for an association vote in 2012 that would have removed from membership the NCHSAA’s non-boarding parochial schools – Gibbons, Charlotte Catholic (50 NCHSAA titles since 2000-01), Bishop McGuinness (25 since 2000-01) and the new Christ the King High in Huntersville.
The vote needed three-fourths (293 schools) of the association membership to pass. A majority of the schools (234) voted to oust the four schools, but more than a fourth of the schools (105), did not vote.
Gibbons athletic director Todd Schuler said the school wants to continue its relationship with Wake County schools because many families from the Diocese have children in public school.
“We want them to be vibrant and successful schools educationally and athletically because it’s better for our families and our parishes,” he said.
NCHSAA will take a look
Que Tucker the interim commissioner of the NCHSAA, said the board of directors likely will discuss the conference bylaws. She said she has not heard of other conferences passing similar rules.
“This would really be a first,” Tucker said. “We’ve always prided ourselves in being a family and so typically our schools are going to play other member schools without question and hesitation. This would be new territory if this is what they choose to do.”
The NCHSAA lets schools and conferences govern their regular season rules for the most part. Wake County Public Schools System athletic director Deran Coe said he allows conferences to do what they feel is best so long as no NCHSAA rules are broken. He said he has not heard if the Greater Neuse 4A, which has five Wake schools, will follow suit.
Dunphy said there are built-in advantages at the non-boarding parochial schools. He makes no accusations about wrongdoing at Cardinal Gibbons. But he says he is a firm believer in public school, and that students who choose another kind of school should not expect to play against public school teams.
“The one thing we all have in common as a public school is we don’t get to pick and choose the students that we have,” Dunphy said. “We believe if you want to go to private school like Gibbons because of what it offers to you … We feel that that, in and of itself, should be the reason why you’re going to that school.”
Broughton athletic director Aaron Minger said after the SWAC made its change, the Cap-8 revisited their own rule. The NCHSAA has a policy that says athletes must be within 25 miles of the school, unless that student attends a parish approved by the Diocese or gets approval from a school board.
“A 25-mile radius is pretty significant,” Minger said. “There’s just a lot more area to draw from where the typical public school, the base is very, very shy of that square mileage is.”
Rivalries end, schedules change
Gibbons principal Jason Curtis said the school competes with Wake County public schools in a number of extracurricular activities.
“We’re doing robotics competitions (with WCPSS schools), we’re doing speech competitions with them, we’re in science Olympiad with all of these schools. Our arts programs are collaborating all the time,” Curtis said. “So we have these great partnerships with all of these schools. And for me, I feel like athletics is a part of all that.”
Rising senior volleyball player Briley Brind’Amour is sad to see the end of yearly rivalry games – none bigger than two nonconference meetings with Apex each season.
“Those are the ones you kind of look forward to,” Brind’Amour said. “It’s a bummer to not be able to compete with them and, win or lose, be able to compete with them.”