High School Sports

Myers Park girls’ basketball team hopes to play in national championship event

(Center) Myers Park Mustangs head coach Barbara Nelson applauds as players receive their metals following their victory over Southeast Raleigh in the NCHSAA 4A Girls Championship game at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday March 14, 2015. Myers Park defeated Southeast Raleigh 52-47
(Center) Myers Park Mustangs head coach Barbara Nelson applauds as players receive their metals following their victory over Southeast Raleigh in the NCHSAA 4A Girls Championship game at the Dean E. Smith Center in Chapel Hill, NC on Saturday March 14, 2015. Myers Park defeated Southeast Raleigh 52-47 jsiner@charlotteobserver.com

Now that Myers Park’s nationally ranked girls’ basketball team has won the N.C. 4A state championship, the Mustangs are hoping the N.C. High School Athletic Association will grant the team a special exemption to play in the Dick’s Sporting Goods High School Nationals next month.

Dick’s has extended an invitation to Myers Park to play for a mythical national championship April 2-4 in New York. The NCHSAA has a rule prohibiting teams from playing after their sports season ends. For Myers Park, the basketball season ended Saturday.

The school made an initial request to the NCHSAA that was denied. An appeal will be considered by the NCHSAA’s executive committee Tuesday. The Mustangs have until 5 p.m. Tuesday to accept the national championship invitation.

After Saturday’s 52-47 win against Southeast Raleigh in the N.C. 4A final, Myers Park coach Barbara Nelson gave an impassioned plea for the NCHSAA to grant the school’s request. Last week, the Georgia High School association granted permission for Wheeler High to attend.

“Four states have done it,” Nelson said. “Florida has let people go for the last four or five years. Utah did it last year. Washington state did it, and now Georgia Wheeler is getting to go.

“This is coming. Whether North Carolina decides to get on the bandwagon this year, it’s coming. We always have done it for track. They go as individuals or the AAU team, but not their high school.”

NCHSAA Commissioner Davis Whitfield told the Observer recently there has never been an exception to the rule, which prevented Olympic High from accepting a national championship invitation when it had an undefeated state championship team in 2013.

Former Olympic coach Ty Baumgardner told the Observer the Trojans did not appeal the decision.

Last season, Northside Christian, a Charlotte private school that is a member of the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association, participated in the national tournament.

Whitfield said the rule is in place to allow students to participate in multiple sports. The NCHSAA spring sports season began Feb. 16. Nelson believes this is a unique opportunity that warrants an exception.

The national tournament began in 2009. Dick’s became sponsor in 2014 and moved the event to New York. This year, eight boys’ teams and four girls’ teams will play.

The boys’ quarterfinals will be April 2 at Christ The King High. The boys’ and girls’ semifinals will be April 3 at Christ The King. Both finals will be April 4 at Madison Square Garden.

“This would be a great educational opportunity,” Nelson said, “to take kids who have never been (to New York) and may never get there, to see the Statue of Liberty in person instead of in a picture; to stand on top of the Empire State Building, or to go to ground zero.

“Some of these kids weren’t born when 9/11 happened and for those kids to have that opportunity, well, it will be a shame if that’s withheld from them.”

Nelson said Myers Park will quietly accept whatever decision the NCHSAA makes.

“Basketball has taken to me to Australia, Mexico City, Spain, France … the Grand Canyon,” she said. “I cannot imagine my life without those experiences, and I want these kids to have the experience of (the New York trip). So I hope and pray they will seriously discuss it and see it as an educational opportunity.

“There’s no advantage for us. Our spring sports kids will go to spring sports. I said to our parents that I supported their fight, but if it doesn’t happen for us, maybe we cracked the door for somebody else a year, two years, three years down the road. I would hate they don’t get to do it, but at least we got the conversation going.”

Wertz: 704-358-5133; Twitter: @langstonwertzjr

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