After months of pleading, complaining, arguing, proposing, petitioning, referenduming, hand-wringing and face-palming, Green Hope and Panther Creek got their wish to remain in the Tri-Nine Conference come 2013.
Green Hope athletics director Wayne Bragg called this process a “winding road,” but it was more of Mr. Toad’s Wild Ride, replete with U-turns and dead ends.
Athletics directors and principals from both schools, as well as WCPSS athletics director Bobby Guthrie and superintendent Tony Tata, were steadfast in seeing the process through to the finish.
But what a boring past few months it would have been if they were the only characters in this story.
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Instead, the realignment struggle was nothing short of a saga with one twist after another as more people got involved.
It started with two heated incidents in the boys and girls basketball playoffs between Green Hope and would-be future conference opponents. A few select hands that were set to dribble and shoot started to shove, swipe and hit.
Emotions weren’t limited to the games, as parents and other team supporters began their own realignment campaigns.
The calm, consistent message being delivered by Bragg and outgoing Panther Creek athletics director Todd Schuler began to get drowned out by panicked parents concerned about safety. They worried that fights would be a regular part of every sporting event.
Some parents targeted NCHSAA administrators – many of whom have nothing to do with the realignment committee – with email blasts and phone calls.
Some, whether in an online petition or by other channels, voiced those safety arguments and others that didn’t hold water and strayed from the schools’ main concern of loss of rivalry. Critics complained of excessive travel, although the mileage would have been similar to what Green Hope travels now. Alarmists worried over the potential loss of varsity programs, which was never a possibility.
Adding to the drama were the schools that refused to get involved.
Some schools wanted no part of a proposed 14-team conference, which before the East Chapel Hill news, was the first new idea in the realignment discussions. Panther Creek and Green Hope found it difficult to contact other schools to see if anyone was interested in a split conference.
Then came Eric Sigmon.
Sigmon – a member of the Green Hope booster club – thought it was weird that East Chapel Hill’s enrollment shot up after realignment. He suspected foul play.
His conspiracy theory may have missed the mark about East Chapel Hill’s intentions, but his observation led to a major revelation. East Chapel Hill’s enrollment numbers, which the school system – not the school – is responsible for submitting, were indeed incorrect.
Procedural appeals almost never work. And despite the emails, the phone calls and the petitions, this one would have failed too. But after the East Chapel Hill news came out, the appeal had to be granted. Not only were two schools going to be needlessly moved to a conference they didn’t want to go to, but a 4A school was going to be competing on the 3A level.
I’m not sure why East Chapel Hill waited until a few weeks ago to confirm that its initial attendance figures were indeed incorrect – numbers first reported in November. Quicker action could have saved a few turns on this winding road.
But the road has finally come to an end.
And what a ride it was.