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High school coaches worry about ‘super teams’ if open enrollment bill passes

By Langston Wertz Jr.
lwertz@charlotteobserver.com
MALLARDCREEK_WAKEFOREST_15
Jeff Siner - jsiner@charlotteobserver.com
Mallard Creek won a state 4AA football championship in 2013, but head coach Mike Palmieri says that if an open enrollment bill is passed in the N.C. legislature it would change the competitive balance in high school athletics and create “super teams,” among other potential problems.

An open enrollment bill drafted by a state legislative subcommittee would allow any North Carolina student to attend any public school in the state. If it passes, area coaches and administrators say it would have a profound impact on athletics.

“At first blush, it would have a very, very tough impact on athletics,” Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools system athletics director Sue Doran said. “And that’s not just in CMS, but in any district in the state.”

The proposed bill would make school districts set up plans to allow families to request a spot in any North Carolina public school, even if it was out of their district. Schools could deny spots for a few reasons, with lack of space being a major one. Several coaches interviewed by the Observer felt such a plan would create a culture of “super teams.” Others worry star athletes would be admitted into top programs ahead of other out-of-district students.

Most didn’t believe the bill would pass, but if it does, change would be swift.

“That would be a problem, to be honest,” said Mike Palmieri, head coach of Mallard Creek’s state champion football team. “I like the idea that parents can put their kids in the best situation. Sometimes that can change a kid’s life to get him into a better environment, but it will be hard to pick (which out of district kids) to let in. Who do you say ‘No’ to? Athletically, kids will go to the winning school and you’ll have kids transferring all over the place. In South Florida, kids can transfer all over the place, and you have bidding wars. That could happen here.”

A subcommittee of the Joint Legislative Program Evaluation Oversight Committee sent a draft of the open enrollment bill to the full committee Wednesday. The bill will be officially presented on Monday.

Sen. Fletcher Hartsell, a Cabarrus County Republican, is chairman of the subcommittee. He told The News & Observer of Raleigh that school “districts have become siloed. Charters have become siloed. All we’re trying to do is create a parity between these various institutions to meet the needs (of) the children and not the institutions.”

Hartsell said it was too early to say if the full committee would recommend the bill go before the General Assembly during a short session that starts in two weeks.

‘A bad precedent’

Butler football coach Brian Hales thinks the bill would create a huge competitive imbalance in most high school sports.

“What you’ll end up seeing are a couple of super teams,” he said. “The fear is ... you have kids getting together and deciding we’ll go play at this one school. It upsets the competitive balance, and the other thing I don’t like is you don’t get the chance to develop kids or build relationships. If I have a kid as a ninth grader who develops and waits his turn and is about to get on the field as senior, then all of a sudden a big time running back from out of district shows up, what do you do as a coach?

“Part of the deal is you’ve got to win, but what do you tell kids who have been there and worked so hard? It sets a bad precedent.”

Ardrey Kell baseball coach Hal Bagwell said he doesn’t like the proposed bill and worries it would ultimately result in some schools shutting down and others becoming terribly overcrowded, in addition to the impact on athletics.

“That would be the worst thing they can do for athletics,” he said. “You talk about top-heavy and bottom-heavy. Back in the old days, you went to school and played where you lived. Everyone competed on a level playing field. Now, could coaches recruit? Would they? There would need to be provision for that.”

Bagwell wonders what would happen to a high-profile athlete who transfers into a district and isn’t happy, or doesn’t play as much. Does he transfer to a rival school in that district? Does he return home?

“There’s so many questions,” Bagwell said. “It’ll be worse than it’s ever been. It wasn’t really bad the way it used to be. Actually, it was pretty good. But I read (about the bill) and said, ‘You have got to be kidding me.’”

Wertz: 704-612-9716; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

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