ON THE SIDELINES: Cooperation is needed to solve charter school situation

by Mar 8, 2023OPINIONS, SPORTS di-ne-lv-di-yi0 comments


One Feather Asst. Editor


For years, schools in the 1A division of NCHSAA (N.C. High School Athletic Association) have had to play against non-traditional schools (charter schools, prep, etc.) who are able to garner players from all over, not just their geographic area like other schools.  It has been an issue for a long time, and many schools have issued complaints against this practice.  But, it is time for the schools to come together to finally solve the issue once and for all.

Cherokee’s Loshi Ward brings the ball up the court during the Smoky Mountain Conference tournament final as the Lady Braves defeated the Robbinsville Lady Black Knights 72-71 in a barn-burner at the Ken Solesbee Athletic Center at Andrews High School. Both teams would go on to lose to Bishop-McGuinness in the 1A State Playoffs a few weeks later. (SCOTT MCKIE B.P./One Feather photo)

One of the best basketball games I’ve covered in awhile was the women’s final of the Smoky Mountain Conference Tournament last month between Cherokee and Robbinsville.  The game was decided in overtime and pitted two of the best teams in 1A. It was truly great North Carolina basketball.

Both teams went on to lose to the same team in the 1A state playoffs – Bishop-McGuinness, a charter school.

North Carolina General Assembly Rep. John R. Bell IV (R-Wayne) told HighSchoolOT two years ago, “The majority of state champions and teams that are playing in the final four throughout the whole entire 1A athletic championships – in all sports – the overwhelming majority are charter schools.”

He added, “I graduated from a 1A school, so I know what it’s like to show up to play a football game and the school you’re playing has more boys in it than we had students.  Watching where charter schools are bragging about their athletic programs, keeping their numbers low, and recruiting…that’s not the intent of a charter school.”

In January 2021, the Carteret County Board of Education wrote a “Resolution Urging the NCHSAA to Address Inequities in Conference Alignments and Playoff Competitions”.  In it, the board members wrote, “…in recent years, an increasing number of non-traditional high schools across the state have been created where enrollment is not keyed to an audience zone and students are free to enroll regardless of the physical address of their residences.  These non-traditional schools include charter schools, magnet schools, and non-boarding parochial schools…”

The resolution continued, “…when a non-traditional school establishes a successful athletic program, skilled student athletes are often drawn to the school, and with no attendance zone limits, are free to enroll and join a team therefore perpetuating the success of the program.”

NCHSAA-member schools are currently considering a proposal that would increase the amount of classifications from four to seven starting with the 2025-26 athletic season.  A total of three-fourths of all schools must vote in the affirmative for the change to take place, and ballots were distributed earlier this month.

The problem is that charter schools would still be competing against other public schools.  In a column, J. Mike Blake, HIghSchoolOT contributor, gives his best guesses on reclassification if this passes, and he puts both Cherokee and Bishop in 2A with Robbinsville still in 1A.  Now, to be clear, that’s just a guess and nothing is official at all, but it does illustrate how this reclassification wouldn’t fix this issue at all.

More than a decade ago, NCHSAA did attempt to address this issue and put it to a vote.  According to CarolinaCoastOnline, a total of three-fourths of the NCHSAA member schools were required to vote in the affirmative for it to occur.  At the time, that meant a total of 293 of the 390 schools had to vote for the measure.  It failed.  CarolinaCoastOnline reported that there were 197 votes for, 81 against, and 112 abstentions.

And, the issue was allowed to continue.

My fix to this issue is for schools to finally work together, come together, and get the vote out to change it together.  It won’t happen if individual 1A schools keep complaining.  It won’t happen if parents keep complaining.  It’s going to have to come from a large, unified block of schools and conferences working together.

And, to me the fix is simple – give the charter schools their own division and be done with it.  They can still play public schools in regular season games, but come playoff time, they just go to their own tournament – easy as pie.

Oh, and for the record, Bishop-McGuinness will play Chatham Charter in the 1A women’s state title game.