High School Sports

West Charlotte loses home court advantage. Is it about race or too few seats?

West Charlotte-Ardrey Kell regional semifinal has been moved

The game was scheduled to play at West Charlotte High School, but the gym seems is too small.
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The game was scheduled to play at West Charlotte High School, but the gym seems is too small.

A large group of West Charlotte High supporters are outraged that the school’s high school basketball state quarterfinal with Ardrey Kell on Tuesday cannot be played on campus.

As the higher-seeded team in the N.C. High School Athletic Association playoffs, West Charlotte would normally host the game. But the association informed the school Sunday night that it would need to be moved, due to the size of school’s gym, which can accommodate about 450 fans. Vance seats 1,100.

The NCHSAA has a rule that allows it to move playoff games based on expected attendance or the quality of the venue.

So instead of being at West Charlotte, the 7 p.m. game will be played at a neutral site, Vance High.

The change of locations, announced Sunday, drew an immediate protest from West Charlotte supporters.

“It’s adversely impacting kids at West Charlotte,” said Mitzi Sims Porter, whose daughter Rachel, and son Blake, both played sports at the school.

“Had this been the other way around, and Ardrey Kell had the smaller gym, would they have invoked this rule? They’ve taken the game completely out of the community.”

Lions supporters, like Porter, took to social media and to the phones, calling Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools and the athletic association, to voice concerns that the decision was being made across racial and socioeconomic lines.

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Some said the change was made to appease wealthy Ardrey Kell parents from southeast Mecklenburg County, who didn’t want to come to West Charlotte’s gym, known as the Lions Den, off Beatties Ford Road.

Ardrey Kell athletics director Brian Knab said that’s the farthest thing from the truth.

“We were fine coming to West Charlotte,” Knab said. “They earned the right to host the game.”

But here’s where it gets confusing. Knab said he contacted West Charlotte athletics director John Yewcic on Sunday to find out about getting pre-sale tickets. Away teams are generally allowed a third of the seating capacity, in this case 150 seats.

The rub came when Knab and Yewcic couldn’t agree on how to handle the remaining 300 tickets. Knab wanted to have some portion of them available for sale to the general public after West Charlotte took an allotment for pre-sale.

“The only thing I advocated for,” Knab said, “was equal opportunity for our fan base to attend the game, just like theirs.

“Next thing I know, I get a call back from Yewcic and he said, ‘We’re moving to Vance.’ Where all this is coming from, where Ardrey Kell is trying to force the game to be moved and all that stuff, is unfortunate. It’s caused all this tension, and it should be about the kids. We have great respect for West Charlotte and what they accomplished. We were prepared to play in their gym.”

West Charlotte’s Yewcic said that even before he talked with Knab he thought about moving the game “for security and safety reasons.”

But then he said he began to think about the West Charlotte players, whom he said deserved to play on their home court.

“I’m all about doing what’s right for the kids here,” he said. “I believe that there’s a home-court advantage.”

But Yewcic said he learned Sunday night that he no longer had a choice. He said he got a call from CMS athletics director Sue Doran who had been in contact with the state. Yewcic said that Doran told him that the association believed West Charlotte simply wasn’t big enough to host the game, due to the amount of interest.

“I’m disappointed for our athletes,” Yewcic said. “They played hard and got themselves in position where they earned a right to host. I can see the administration and state side of it. But you weigh seating capacity and what you want for your student-athletes. Which one outweighs the other? It’s a tough call.”

West Charlotte and Ardrey Kell, both with powerful basketballs team this year, are markedly different campuses.

According to school digger, Ardrey Kell ranks No. 9 among 469 N.C. public schools. It has 2,991 students and is 58.8 percent white, 12.5 percent black. There are less than 10 percent of students on free and reduced lunch.

West Charlotte, once the flagship school in CMS, now ranks 415th. Its enrollment includes 84.4 percent black students and 1.2 percent white. The school’s free-and-reduced-lunch recipients make up more than 98 percent of its 1,530 student body.

Que Tucker, commissioner of the state athletic association, said the decision to move the game had nothing to do with economics, just seats. She said she’d received calls from officials with both schools concerned about attendance.

“We would love to keep it at West Charlotte,” Tucker said, “because at this stage, they are the higher-seeded team, and that’s unfortunate that we are at the point where this decision had to be made.”

These moves, though often controversial, have become common in CMS, which struggles with what county commissioner Vilma Leake described Monday as a two-tier school system: the haves and the have nots.

Leake says certain schools are better taken care of than others. “We are more segregated today than we’ve ever been,” she said. “There’s a white system and a black system.”

In December, CMS moved a football semifinal game between Vance and Myers Park because Vance’s field was unplayable. Butler High has had to move playoff and big regular-season football games regularly because its stadium doesn’t have enough capacity.

Three years ago, North Mecklenburg was forced to move a basketball regional semifinal game with Butler to Hough High because the Vikings’ gym was too small. Tucker said the athletic association has also moved late-round basketball playoff games in Lincoln County and Cabarrus County for similar reasons.

There is some good news for West Charlotte fans in all of this. In future years, playoff games will not be moved.

CMS officials told the Observer a 125-classroom replacement school, located on the same campus, is to open in August 2022. Construction is scheduled to start next year. Athletic facilities will include a new gym, field house and pool.

But this week, a lot of hard feelings remain.

West Charlotte senior basketball player Quinten Thomas posted on Instagram: “That’s what we worked for and now that we earned the opportunity and it is being taken away from us is straight (BS).”

Porter, at the center of the social media firestorm, said she was happy to learn that West Charlotte was able to practice at Vance on Monday afternoon.

“I understand the whole gym size thing,” she said. “But we can’t do anything about the size of West Charlotte’s gym. It’ll be a different game at Vance as opposed to West Charlotte. ... I just feel like our kids got something stripped away from them that didn’t have to be.”

Langston Wertz Jr. is an award-winning sports journalist who has worked at the Observer since 1988. He’s covered everything from Final Fours and NFL to video games and Britney Spears. Wertz -- a West Charlotte High and UNC grad -- is the rare person who can answer “Charlotte,” when you ask, “What city are you from.”
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