The N.C. High School Athletic Association Board of Directors will hear an appeal from Myers Park High School on Tuesday afternoon. It will determine whether to allow the nationally ranked Mustangs’ girls basketball team play in a national tournament in New York next month.
Myers Park, ranked No. 4 nationally by USA Today, has been invited to be one of four girls teams to play in the DICK’S Sporting Goods national championship April 2-4 in New York City. Myers Park won its second straight N.C. 4A state championship Saturday.
The NCHSAA has a rule that, according to commissioner Davis Whitfield, is more than four decades old and states that when a team’s season ends or the state championship concludes, it cannot play any longer.
Whitfield said 46 other states have a similar rule and it’s in place to ensure separation between sports seasons and to allow student-athletes to participate in multiple sports. Whitfield said several schools have inquired about playing in specialized events after their seasons have ended, like when Olympic’s unbeaten basketball team was invited to the national tournament in 2013, but none have formally appealed until now.
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Myers Park coach Barbara Nelson says this an unique opportunity for the girls to take an all-expenses paid trip to New York, to play in a famous arena and to give her team an educational tour of the city, with stops at Ground Zero, the Empire State Building and the Statue of Liberty.
“We weren’t invited last year and we won state,” Nelson said. “We’re invited now because we’re No. 4 in the nation. How many times will that happen? Maybe once in a lifetime. We’re going to tell the kids ‘no’ to the Statue of Liberty or Ground Zero? We’re going to tell them ‘no’ because of an antiquated rule?”
Whitfield said he sympathizes with Myers Park’s team, but said the NCHSAA was simply enforcing its long-standing rule.
“I completely understand their side of this equation,” Whitfield said. “They feel they have a basketball team that’s exceptional and it’s a once-in-a-lifetime opportunity. We’ve received numerous communications on their behalf. Our association is made up of 403 high schools that have settled on this rule and not asked us to take a look at this rule as a board.
“We’re simply enforcing it. Will we look at the rule? I’m sure we will. We will tweak it? I’m not sure. It’s a good question to pose to our membership and I look forward to having that conversation. The fact is they’ve appealed this and we’re providing them with their due process and we’ll see what the final outcome will be.”
Bruce Howard, publications and communication director for the National Federation of High Schools, said four of 51 states/districts allow teams to participate in events after the season ends: Florida, Washington, Utah and, now, Georgia. Last week, the Georgia High School Sports Association overturned an earlier decision and agreed to let Wheeler High play in the national championship.
Two Mississippi high schools have been invited: Callaway boys and Olive Branch’s girls. Both teams are petitioning state leaders to help overturn a similar Mississippi High School Activities Association rule that prevents play after state championships conclude.
“The talk about national events has been going on among our membership for a long time,” Howard said, “and basically, in the end, it hasn’t changed anything for the most part. There’s more and more entities trying to get schools to play in national events. That continues to grow. This is how it ends up all the time.
“Our high school associations, which collectively cover all 51 , number some 19,000 high schools in the United States. The teams DICK’S is looking to bring to this tournament comprise about .0001 percent of those 19,000. Rules philosophically are written for the masses. At its core, high school sports is not about national championships. It’s about everyday play and education-based athletics.”
Nelson hopes the NCHSAA Board sees things a different way.
“For me,” she said, “this about change and getting with the climate. If I had not changed the way I coached from the first year I coached to now I would have been run out of the business. Kids are different. Parents are different. I don’t understand why the rules can’t reflect that change. This isn’t about Myers Park. What if within a year this is Providence’s baseball team or within a year it’s Mallard Creek’s football team? Are people going to wish they had gotten on board and supported this, so every kid gets this opportunity?”
Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr