Published: Jan 16, 2013 02:08 PM
Modified: Jan 16, 2013 02:09 PM
Few organizations are as ubiquitous and yet relatively unknown as the N.C. High School Athletic Association.
The NCHSAA has an impact in every county in the state and in towns from Murphy to Manteo. Any place with a high school, the NCHSAA has a role.
And yet few adults outside of those who have had a child or who themselves played in a state championship have given much thought to the small group of public servants who provide the backdrop upon which hundreds of athletic careers are made.
Fittingly, the NCHSAA kicked off its centennial observance last weekend with a quiet get-together at the Friday Center.
No fireworks. No balloons dropped or confetti blowing into the air.
Just an understated reception — little more than cheese, crackers and iced tea, no brie or champagne — followed by some remarks by past and present NCHSAA leaders.
“When you look back over the last 100 years of the association, you’re looking at all the student-athletes, coaches and administrators who have helped build the programs of the NCHSAA,” said Davis Whitfield, just the sixth executive director of the association in its existence.
“It began as just a twinkle in the eye of people who said, ‘Hey, let’s have some organization to these sports,’ and you can see what it’s become.”
The association has survived a Great Depression, two world wars, segregation and social upheaval. Along the way, it’s been at the forefront of an explosion in the sports offered to young men and women.
The N.C. High School Athletic Association began operations as part of the University of North Carolina’s extension division and first held championships in football and track in 1913.
At first, it was run like any other department within the university, led by a small cadre of administrators. By 1947, the member schools were taking a more active part.
In 1967, the historically black high schools of the North Carolina High School Athletic Conference joined the NCHSAA. In 1977, the Western N.C. High School Activities Association melded with the NCHSAA.
Now, the association has almost 400 member schools – including some private and charter schools – with more than 150,000 athletes competing annually.
Throughout the 20th century, the association remained part of the University or North Carolina, its offices located alongside UNC’s Finley Golf Course, with state employees as its staff and its phones listed within UNC’s “Blue Pages” in Bell South printed telephone books.
In 2010, the NCHSAA became a nonprofit organization, independent of the University of North Carolina. But the early tradition of public service, fostered by the early administrators, survived.
The NCHSAA remains the state’s spine and nerve center of high school sports, but its schools provide most of the muscle. With barely 20 full-time employees, the association can’t micro-manage individual events; it relies on host schools and an army of volunteers to run most of its more than 75 championships in 22 men’s and women’s sports.
Unlike private organizations like the AAU or U.S. Olympic Committee, which exist to reward the elite in a sport, the NCHSAA fosters an egalitarian devotion to encouraging every student in the state to try athletics.
“You want them to thrive at the next level,” Whitfield said. “But you want to see every student provided with a well-rounded experience athletically, academically and socially.”
The association’s members have done such a good job that the 21st century saw parochial and private schools wanting to join. With more schools popping up every year, membership standards will be one of the biggest issues facing the NCHSAA in its next decade.
“It’s all about the people,” Whitfield said. “For a hundred years, we’ve had strong leadership for all the student-athletes, the coaches and administrators. I want to make sure we keep going forward with them in the right way.”