The News & Observer’s high school sports panel of five community sports editors, headed up by J. Mike Blake, will be taking on different questions each week.
In this week’s writers’ roundtable, the group tackles a long-standing hot topic in the N.C. High School Athletic Association: nontraditional schools and their success. One NCHSAA board member is proposing that charter and parochial 1A schools have a separate bracket than traditional 1A public schools.
The NCHSAA’s annual board of directors meeting is this week, but transformative measures are typically tabled for later dates to get more input from membership.
The tension between public and non-public schools has been bubbling beneath the surface for some time, reaching a boil in 2012 when Rowan County schools brought forward separate statewide votes to put charter schools into their own bracket and remove parochial schools – there are only three of them, but won 118 championships in between 2001-02 to 2012-13. Both failed.
Two Wake County leagues passed conference bylaws last year to prohibit scheduling games against non-public schools. Both leagues repealed their bylaws after the schools’ principals became involved following public backlash.
In some 1A sports, traditional public schools are dominated by schools that draw students differently, like a charter school or a magnet in a metro area. However, excluding girls lacrosse (because there is just one 1A team and one title for all four classes) the traditional schools have won 86 of a possible 127 titles since the 2009-10 season
The N&O panel features:
▪ J. Mike Blake (The Cary News and Southwest Wake News)
▪ Aaron Moody (Eastern Wake News)
▪ Jessika Morgan (Midtown Raleigh News and North Raleigh News)
▪ W.E. Warnock (Chapel Hill News and The Durham News)
D. Clay Best (Smithfield Herald, Clayton News-Star, Garner-Cleveland Record) is out this week.
Let’s start with the over-arching question being decided here: do nontraditional schools have inherent advantages over traditional ones? Does it go both ways?
Blake: Yes, but let’s be clear: “advantage” is not an accusation or a dirty word. If you’re 300 pounds you have an advantage in football but not in swimming.
Ultimately, where you live in N.C. matters more than what type of school you go to. As The N&O found last year, schools that have a more wealthy populace are more likely to win state titles. A charter school set in that area will do better than a traditional 1A school, almost always in rural areas – or a rural charter school (were all charter schools rural, like KIPP Pride or Bear Grass Charter, there would be no such proposal for a new bracket).
Charter schools certainly have their own obstacles as well: small booster clubs, few alumni, no transportation, off-campus facilities and all transfers must sit out a year. Some public schools – whether they are magnet, open-enrollment or have a speciality program – benefit athletically a little, but it’s hit-or-miss.
Going back to a wealthier populace, that sums up why parochial schools are so darn good at almost everything. Think about it. If Green Hope is the six-time Wells Fargo Cup 4A champ for statewide success and has a free-and-reduced lunch rate of about 7 percent, what would that percentage look like at a schools that cost $8,000 a year? Probably zero percent of athletes, because all the needs-based scholarship students are ineligible from playing sports.
Money matters more than the school type, but some school types lend themselves to reaching wealthier families.
Moody: I get the access to resources point in a case that nontraditional schools have advantages. Perhaps there are instances where this could go either way, though. Some younger, nontraditional schools don’t even have many of their own facilities like most – I repeat, most – traditional public schools have in their own back yard. And in cases like that, it would appear the nontraditional school would be the one learning rather than winning in games against public schools and not the other way around. But you obviously can’t bracket teams based on how established the programs are.
Morgan: Nontraditional schools may have an advantage because of their ability to draw student-athletes to their campuses. They can offer individualized attention to their athletic careers and give them a platform to shine for film, getting it into the right hands. Sure, that can happen with an incredibly special student-athlete at a public school, but there often more resources on the other side.
Traditional public schools have the upper-hand because kids who grow up in the area may long to play for their local high school, and that kid may turn out to be really, really good.
Warnock: The one intrinsic advantage nontraditional schools have is the ability to decide the numbers and demographics of their student bodies. After that, they have the same constraints as virtually all other schools. Personally, I’ve never heard a public school coach complain about a parochial or charter school’s budget, or playing facilities or ability to create a grading scale that fits their students. (Most nontraditional schools are just as strapped for cash as anyone else.)
All the complaints can be reduced to the nontraditionals’ ability to draw students from a larger area than can public schools in defined districts, which are set by school boards. Coaches get just as mad about a public-school rival poaching a player from their school district as they do about seeing kids from their district play for a nontraditional school.
What next step should the NCHSAA take, if any, to ensure competitive balance between traditional and nontraditional schools?
Blake: A multiplier on parochial schools is logical. The parochials have won a title in every sport – sans wrestling, softball, baseball and outdoor track and field – since that 2012 vote. I like that Cardinal Gibbons asks to play in 4A even though it has 3A size and I think it’s silly that Charlotte Catholic – your reigning 4A football and boys’ basketball champs – gets to move down to 3A in 2017.
Fearing legal action, there is a feeling that the NCHSAA can’t address parochials without also doing something to charters, magnets and open-enrollment districts. If that’s the case, form a committee and come up with a different multiplier that seems fair for each group. I agree with Elliott – if you’re dealing with a fundamental difference in schools, then this is no different than separate classes for different school sizes.
I’m interested in seeing if the NCHSAA discusses skill development this week. If restrictions are loosened, that may be the trick to help those rural 1A teams, who lack local year-round club teams – and the funds to pay for membership – that many nontraditional athletes have access to in big metro areas.
Moody: I see no problem Ivy Leaguing, so-to-speak, nontraditional teams – either placing some in a conference of their own or at least creating new divisions within the brackets. But I do think nontraditional and traditional schools should still have opportunities to meet in the regular season. Those games are often beneficial to one or both teams.
Morgan: Some nontraditionals should compete in their own conference and have a championship bracket separate from traditionals. Nonconference games between the two, however, can be encouraged.
Warnock: The public schools, for the most part, don’t mind competing with the nontraditionals; it’s the tournament/championship success of the nontraditionals that raises the ire of traditionals. Creating a new category of championships within a classification is the easiest way to end that imbalance. And it’s no more “separate but equal” than the idea of classifications in the first place.
In your crystal ball, what do you see happening in five years with regards to nontraditional schools?
Blake: I’m a bit of a pessimist. I don’t see everyone getting along.
I think the NCHSAA will be slow to use a multiplier for parochial schools unless it can be used for all types of non-traditional schools, including magnets and open-enrollment districts. The result will mean nothing gets done to address the concerns of the public schools, which means someone’s going to propose another vote from schools hoping to remove parochials from the NCHSAA.
Moody: At the rate nontraditional schools are either popping up locally or are trying to, I envision there will at least be more discussion on all-nontraditional leagues or tournaments. Doubt too much will change in a mere five years, though.
Morgan: I can see the growth of their athletics and quite possibly competition among each other.
Warnock: Given the complications of changing the NCHSAA bylaws, it’s more likely than not that the association will change very little in its approach to nontraditional schools. It’s difficult to get the necessary number of NCHSAA members even to cast ballots in a statewide referendum, let alone to get them to agree to changes. In the past, measures to change the status of nontraditionals within the NCHSAA have drawn a clear majority of support – from those who voted – but that wasn’t enough to meet the requirements for change. Any real changes likely will evolve from executive/administrative decisions from the NCHSAA office.