Editorial Roundup: North Carolina

Charlotte Observer. July 25, 2021.

Editorial: Republicans want to dissolve NC’s high school sports administration. What’s the rush?

State Senate Republicans regularly ignore the needs of underfunded public schools, but some of them are moving with urgency to dismantle one dimension of public schools that is well-funded and widely supported – the governance of high school sports.

A bill moving through the legislature would dissolve the independent North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) and replace it with a 17-member state commission starting in the 2022-2023 school year. Nine members of the proposed commission would be appointed by the governor, four by the House speaker and four by the Senate president pro tempore.

Why this would be an improvement isn’t clear, but its potential to disrupt high school sports is.

The NCHSAA has governed high school sports for more than a century. Dissolving it might throw out years of experience and upend procedures for conducting playoffs, addressing rule violations and recruiting and retaining game officials. The proposed state commission could also expose high school sports to political meddling in such areas as conference assignments and disciplinary actions.

Senators push bill

Nonetheless, Republican senators Todd Johnson of Union County, Tom McInnis of Richmond County and Vickie Sawyer of Iredell County have taken House Bill 91 – a measure originally aimed at helping autistic children – and substituted it with one entitled “Accountability and Fair Play in Athletics.”

As the bill’s title suggests, the senators are upset with what they consider the NCHSAA’s lack of transparency about its rule making and penalties and the way it distributes its resources. The NCHSAA has more than $40 million in total assets, making it the nation’s wealthiest high school athletics association.

The association’s extensive assets and the sometimes awkward fit between a private nonprofit organization and publicly funded schools do raise concerns about its transparency and accountability. But overall, the NCHSAA has been a capable organization that has served many generations of young athletes.

As the governing body has come under fire, many have come forward to support it, including the N.C. Coaches Association, the N.C. Athletic Directors Association and The National Federation of State High School Associations. Karissa L. Niehoff, the national group’s executive director, wrote last week that the NCHSAA is “one of the most respected associations” in the 51-member group and its programs have been “emulated by other associations across the country.”

HB 91 has passed the Senate’s Education and Finance committees, but still must pass the Senate and the House. Gov. Roy Cooper hasn’t taken a position on the bill.

Reform instead

NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker told the Editorial Board that her group is open to making changes in response to lawmakers’ concerns, but that will require cooperation, not confrontation.

“We are not a perfect organization. We understand that,” said Tucker, a former basketball coach and a 30-year veteran of NCHSAA, “but we can only do that when people are willing to work with us instead of dismantling us.”

Sen. Jay Chaudhuri, a Wake County Democrat and a member of the Education Committee, said Republicans have touched on real concerns about the NCHSAA, but there’s no need to immediately replace it.

“I think that the decision to completely dissolve a hundred-year-old-plus organization that’s been managing more than 20 varsity sports from Murphy to Manteo is akin to calling the ball game in the second inning, not the ninth inning,” he told The News & Observer.

The senator is right. After more than a century of serving high school athletes, the NCHSAA deserves time to answer the legislature’s concerns, improve its transparency and explain its finances. Providing that opportunity is good sportsmanship – and good governance.

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Winston-Salem Journal. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: Hold your horses, Tanglewood

Whoa. Hold on just a minute there.

That seems to sum up the general response from the public after learning that Forsyth County officials were preparing to sign a contract to break ground on a new event center at Tanglewood Park in Clemmons — one intended to complement the park’s popular horse barns and trails. At 50,000-square-feet with a $5 million budget, the new facility would be larger than both the Annex and Education buildings at the Winston-Salem Fairground. That would certainly have an impact on what many consider to be a natural oasis on the western side of the county — especially if it’s plunked down in the middle of forest land — and a peaceful haven for local homeowners.

“It will be very obtrusive and very detrimental to the peace and tranquility we enjoy,” Robyn Williams, who lives on Maidstone Lane near Tanglewood, said at a commissioners briefing session last week. “There is someone from my family walking, biking or running there every single day. I don’t go there to walk around a building. I go there to walk around the trees.”

“I’m extremely concerned about my house value, traffic flow and my 16- and 14-year-old children who use (the park) for cross-country practice,” Jennifer Richardson, who lives on Tanglewood Trail, said. “The Clemmons West neighborhood has not had a fair chance to voice any concerns at this point.”

The center wouldn’t necessary be welcomed by the equestrian community, either, especially if it necessitated the loss of other park features. Some told the Journal that they were surprised by the chosen location and the scope of the project. Considering traffic and other factors — including the effect on the horses boarded in the Tanglewood stables — this may not be the best location for major events.

The recommendation for the center was first revealed in November — but many of us were distracted by other things at the time.

Several local residents sent emails and showed up at the meeting last week to let the commissioners and other county officials know their concerns after the Journal’s Wesley Young reported the plans for the center. As a result, the county has placed a pause on the project to allow the public more opportunities for input.

“Clearly, we needed to do more outreach around this,” County Manager Dudley Watts said during Thursday’s briefing session.

We appreciate our officials’ responsiveness. They’re good about that.

The plans for the center are actually one result of the 2016 recreation bond referendum approved by a significant majority of Forsyth County residents for improvements to our parks. Though the new center would be large enough — and versatile enough — to use for many different types of activities and shows, including summer camps, expositions and concerts, it’s meant to harmonize with the equestrian activities at Tanglewood, Commissioner Don Martin told the Journal. That’s one reason it would be built near the horse barns there.

Tanglewood Stables, accommodating privately boarded horses as well as its own stable of horses, is unique for our area. Building on this resource could be beneficial to the entire community, as long as doing so causes no damage. Some may wander from horse shows to local restaurants and hotels.

Martin also pointed out that some misinformation had been spread and that the work wouldn’t destroy a horse riding ring on the east side of the park road as rumored.

Commissioners have put plans on hold until October; slowing the pace to a trot should give everyone the opportunity to learn more and discuss their concerns at length. Perhaps county officials can change the minds of some naysayers.

And, as Watts said, some may have better ideas to offer. “Maybe there’s a site we haven’t identified yet that is the one best site,” Watts said.

He also assured people that there would be no monster-truck shows in the new center. “Whatever we do there has got to be consistent with the surroundings there.”

That’s a relief.

Whatever the outcome, residents will now have ample opportunities to weigh in. We look forward to the conversation.

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Greensboro News & Record. July 26, 2021.

Editorial: MEAC still owes A&T some straight answers

Here it is, the last week of July, and a basketball controversy involving a local university remains stuck in perpetual overtime.

It has been nearly five months since the N.C. A&T men’s basketball team was disqualified from the Mid-Eastern Athletic Conference Tournament, which it had been one of the favorites to win, after an A&T assistant coach tested positive following league-sanctioned COVID-19 tests.

And it has been more than three months since A&T officials sent a letter to the league asking that it address the highly questionable circumstances surrounding that expulsion, based on highly suspect test results, that prompted it.

Still there has been no answer.

And, no, the U.S. Postal Service is not to blame (at least not this time). It’s the MEAC that has failed to deliver.

The positive tests, which ended the Aggies’ season and dashed their hopes for an NCAA Tournament bid, were extremely questionable — at best.

The assistant coach had tested negative for the virus daily for five consecutive days, March 6-10, in testing administered through A&T’s Student Health Center.

The coach also tested negative on a PCR, which is more accurate than an antigen test, on March 8.

Yet on March 11 at the tournament, in COVID-19 screening conducted by a company called SafeSite, the A&T assistant coach tested positive in three tests, two of which were PCRs.

Even more improbable, once A&T had returned to Greensboro, the coach was tested again on March 12, and another time on March 15, as were the entire team and coaching staff. All results were negative.

Obviously, something was wrong with this picture.

An April 8 letter to the MEAC signed by A&T Athletic Director Earl Hilton and Chancellor Harold Martin pointed out the “medical impossibility for an individual to be both infection free for the week prior to and the week immediately following the MEAC testing, and also be infected on the day of the MEAC testing.”

In addition, the letter noted the unlikelihood of a person having “three consecutive false positive COVID-19 tests absent some error or negligence … .”

It’s a valid question that still demands a straight answer. And still the MEAC isn’t providing one.

The A&T letter also requested a meeting with the MEAC’s Council of Chief Executive Officers. The league replied with dead air.

Finally, during a news conference last week about his impending retirement, MEAC Commissioner Dennis Thomas would only say — after being pressed — that an answer is coming “very soon,” whatever that means.

This is no way to treat a departing member of the conference, which was formed in 1970 by seven historically Black institutions, including A&T.

Effective on July 1, A&T officially joined a new league, the Big South, as it had planned to do since February of 2020.

The split from the MEAC, after 50-plus years, has in many ways been like the end of a long, (mostly) happy marriage.

Some Aggie fans wonder whether the shabby treatment by the MEAC has anything to do with A&T’s departure.

We can only hope not.

But we do know that the MEAC’s indifference is unwarranted and inexcusable. And, most of all, unfortunate.

A&T’s more than five decades in the MEAC have forged indelible traditions and memories for Aggie fans and Aggie rivals alike. It shouldn’t have had to end like this.

“It puts a sour taste in the mouth of everyone at A&T,” Aggie men’s basketball coach Will Jones said.

Even if the team fell victim to an egregious testing mistake, the damage has been done.

A&T can’t reverse what happened in March, nor does it seek to.

Hilton told the News & Record’s Joe Sirera that the university plans no legal action and has acted in good faith, despite its obvious frustrations. The university has paid the $250,000 fee required to leave the MEAC, in full and on time.

So why would an outcome that can’t be changed, in a league in which A&T no longer belongs, still matter?

Because a clear and honest accounting of what went wrong in March could prevent similar problems in the future.

Beyond being the right thing to do, such a gesture also would end A&T’s long affiliation with the MEAC on a more graceful note.

After five decades, the Aggies certainly deserve better.

As for whether “very soon” means an answer will be coming today or next week or next month, who knows?

One thing we do know for sure: Whenever it is, it will not be soon enough.

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