Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools have a very real problem with these late starting boys basketball games, and it's time for the school system to do something about it.
This has been a terrible trend for the past four or five years and it only seems to get worse. Every year, we're seeing more and more games ending later.
On opening night of this season in November, Olympic and South Mecklenburg got off to a late start in front of a huge crowd, with the boys tipping off nearly 90 minutes after the prescribed 7:30 p.m. start time.
That got kids home late on a school night.
Friday night, the big rivalry game between Vance and North Mecklenburg - played in front of a standing room only crowd - didn't start until nearly 10 p.m. It didn't end until after the 11 p.m. local newscasts had begun.
Good news? Vance is close to North Mecklenburg, where the game was played, so the players and fans shouldn't have had long drives to get home. Some of the Vance players had to ride the bus back to Vance's campus first.
At least the game was played on a Friday night when kids didn't have to go to school the next day.
Bad news? This can happen on any basketball night so long as CMS continues a policy of playing junior varsity doubleheaders ahead of girls and boys varsity games.
"A lot of my kids didn't get home until almost midnight," Vance coach Will Robinson said. "It's a concern."
Usually the varsity teams will ride to the games with the junior varsity by gender. That means girls leave right after school and hopefully arrive at gyms in time for a 4 p.m. start. Boys arrive at 5 or so. But if games get started late for any reason - bad traffic, officials running late, etc - it pushes back the entire schedule.
That leaves varsity kids, especially boys, sitting in the gyms for long periods of time waiting to play. It also means everyone, from the students in the crowd to the students on the court, are getting home too late.
"It certainly drains the kids of their energy to perform at a high level," Vance's Robinson said. "It's mental fatigue, too, to wait for so long, and you have to remember these are student-athletes. These kids have to get themselves ready for class (on school nights) at 7:15."
Robinson said he doesn't know of any varsity boys games that start before 8 p.m. in Charlotte, but he's been part of leagues that play boys and girls on different nights.
Wake County does it. Mecklenburg County should do it. And this change needs to be in place before the 2012-13 season begins.
There are many people who believe we should go back to running clock for the boys and girls junior varsity games. That would help, but with schools farther and farther apart and traffic always being a concern, I think arrival time is a bigger deal than running clock. And I don't think the answer is letting kids out of school earlier.
So here's my solution: Play girls varsity and junior varsity on Mondays and Thursdays beginning at 5:30 p.m. It gives teams and officials time to get to the gyms and it leaves enough time for boys to practice before the girls games begin.
Under this scenario, boys junior varsity and varsity games would be played on Tuesday and Friday also beginning at 5:30.
This way, varsity games will tip at 6:45 and most nights everyone is done by 8:30.
If that creates too much extra workload for schools, I'd leave the current quadruple-header format in place, but only for Friday or Saturday games.
There's no question, it's time for CMS to change.
"It would alleviate these kids staying out so late at night. I'm not opposed," Vance's Robinson said. "I know we were so relieved that the (North Meck game) game was on a Friday. I'm not sure how a kid would've been able to perform next day in class if it were on a school night."