N.C. High School Athletic Association member schools will vote this week on whether Cardinal Gibbons and other parochial non-boarding schools can remain in the organization.
A ballot was sent to the association’s 390 schools on Monday, and school principals, who are the voting members of the association, have until Tuesday to return ballots.
A three-fourths majority (293 schools) is needed for the measure to pass and to change the NCHSAA constitution. The membership turned down a similar proposed amendment in 1986.
The NCHSAA constitution says that public schools and non-boarding parochial schools such as Gibbons, Charlotte Catholic and Kernersville McGuinness may be members. Charlotte Christ the King was expected to enter the NCHSAA in 2013.
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The vote is at the request of Salisbury, West Rowan, East Rowan, South Rowan, North Rowan and China Grove Carson. The NCHSAA constitution requires a membership vote if six or more schools request an item be placed on a ballot.
“To me it is a question of boundaries,” said Joe Pinyin, the Salisbury High athletic director. “Our students come from a specific area. Theirs do not. Their players can come from anywhere.
“It is not a level playing field.”
Kevin Christmas, the athletic director at Charlotte Catholic, said the school had been an NCHSAA member for 50 years.
“This is very sudden. We very much want to stay in the association,” Christmas said.
Davis Whitfield, the NCHSAA commissioner, said Gibbons, McGuinness and Catholic have been exemplary members of the association.
“I think the eligibility rules that we have in place have been effective,” he said.
The non-boarding parochial members of the NCHSAA have additional eligibility requirements. Students who transfer to the schools are ineligible for athletics for one year, and students who receive financial aid to the school are ineligible for athletics.
A letter from Salisbury High explained the rationale for changing the constitution to exclude the Catholic schools: 1. the schools have no geographical boundaries; 2. the schools do not have to admit students who are unable to participate in athletics and therefore have a higher percentage of their enrollment who are potential athletes; 3. the schools can admit students based on athletic performance; 4. the schools can appeal eligibility requirements about transfers to the NCHSAA.
Gibbons, McGuinness and Catholic responded to the four points in a joint letter: 1. distance and transportation establish a geographical boundary; 2. the schools’ enrollments reflect students who are unable to participate in athletics; 3. athletic ability is not a factor in admission; 4. transferring students are ineligible for a year.
Dr. Michael Fedewa, the superintendent of the diocese of Raleigh, said he would welcome the opportunity to discuss any perceptions or questions other schools might have about the Gibbons athletic program.
“We did not find out about these proposed changes until last Friday,” Fedewa said. “No one approached us to discuss any problems or concerns. Instead, very suddenly the membership is voting on whether we are to be kicked out of the association.”
History of success
Gibbons, McGuinness and Catholic have been very successful in winning NCHSAA state championships, and Gibbons currently leads the Wells Fargo Cup all-sports competition in 3A.
Gibbons has won 34 NCHSAA state championships since 2005. Charlotte Catholic has won 20, including eight girls swimming titles, and McGuinness has won nine NCHSAA state titles, including the last seven 2A girls basketball titles.
State associations throughout the country are confronted with the fairness of private schools playing in associations made up primarily of public schools. The NCHSAA is one of five state associations in the country that do not have private schools as members. Gibbons, Catholic and McGuiness are classified as non-boarding parochial rather than private.
Bobby Cox, the executive director of the Indiana High School Athletic Association, told High School Today magazine that private schools make up 14 percent of the IHSAA membership and won 40 percent of state titles.
In Ohio, private schools make up 16 percent of the membership but won 70 percent of the titles. Georgia recently expanded from five divisions to six after non-public schools won 26 of 28 state titles, excluding football, wrestling and boys track, since 2008.
Since 2009, eight state associations have adopted a multiplier for its private school members. The private schools multiply their enrollments by a designated number to determine their classifications. The result is to put private schools in the larger classification, usually playing larger schools.
Fedewa said if the NCHSAA membership wanted Gibbons to play in the 4A classification he would be glad to entertain the idea.
“We have been a good association member and would like to continue to be a good association member,” he said.
Also on the ballot is creating a separate NCHSAA playoff bracket for charter schools, which are publicly funded schools but are not governed by local boards of education.
Under the proposed change, charter schools would compete in NCHSAA conferences as they do now, but if a charter school qualified for the playoffs in any sport it would be placed in a charter-school bracket to compete against other charter school members.