NCHSAA commissioner says HB 91 inserts politics into sports, raises questions about race & gender

— Dismantling the N.C. High School Athletic Association and placing the responsibility of running high school athletics with a commission appointed by elected officials would subject high school athletics to partisan politics, NCHSAA Commissioner Que Tucker said on Wednesday.

The Senate Committee on Education advanced House Bill 91 on Wednesday afternoon. The bill, which was originally focused on students with autism, would eliminate the need for the NCHSAA, stripping away its authority to govern high school sports and placing it with a new commission housed within the state government.

If the bill is passed, the new commission would consist of 17 members — made up of superintendents, principals, athletic directors, and coaches who are full-time school employees. Nine of the members would be appointed by the governor, four would be appointed by the Senate, and four by the House of Representatives.

“Those individual are there because they have been voted by their constituents where they live, and typically those individuals have a political party affiliation — they’re either Democrat, they’re either Republican, they could be independent — so that in an of itself speaks to what an individual’s beliefs are as it relates to our political system,” Tucker said. “Once you start to appoint committees, then those committees will take on the flavor of the individuals who appoint them … I don’t know how you divorce then the politics from a commission that would be appointed by individuals who are in their positions because of their political affiliations.”

Tucker said the proposed commission would have a similar makeup to the current NCHSAA Board of Directors, but the difference would be that politicians would choose the representatives, not the schools. Mixing high school sports with politics is something people involved in high school sports have long tried to avoid, Tucker said.

Over the last 12-18 months, as the legislature has dug into the NCHSAA, Tucker said the NCHSAA has gone through old meeting minutes.

“We received a document from the UNC archives, the library archives, and in those minutes there are references to … we do not believe that high school athletics ought to be governed by politicians or by the General Assembly,” Tucker said. “So even back in the 40s and 50s, there were references to (the) need to keep sports and athletics free from politics. But unfortunately, here we are talking about the political spectrum and how that could impact high school athletics in our state.”

Tucker says the bill does not provide any guidelines for considering regions or classifications when selecting the 17-member commission, adding that she believes that could create a representation problem for schools.

“What you’re also doing is taking out of the hands of the member schools their ability to say, ‘These are the individuals we want to nominate,'” she said.

Numerous organizations and individuals expressed their support for Tucker and the NCHSAA on Wednesday. The National Federation of State High School Associations, the national governing body for high school sports, released a statement supporting the NCHSAA as the organization that should continue leading high school sports in North Carolina. The N.C. Athletic Directors Association released a statement in support of the NCHSAA, and earlier this week the N.C. Coaches Association unanimously passed a resolution supporting the NCHSAA as the governing body of high school sports in the state.

After HB 91 was unveiled, individual athletic directors, coaches, and administrators have expressed their support for the NCHSAA on social media as well.

Tucker said she can sense a groundswell of support from member schools.

“I believe the membership never thought it would rise to this level, I think the membership perhaps thought, ‘Well, at least now they’ll listen and they’ll make some changes,’ or ‘They’ll do some things differently,'” Tucker said of member schools, adding that the schools feel that they are the NCHSAA. “You’re saying to the 427 member schools that the organization you belong to and that you make up is not doing what it should be doing. In fact, I think somebody even said that we are a broken organization … I think that ought to be offensive to every member of our organization.”

Tucker believes she could be legislative target because of race, gender

Prior to Tucker becoming commissioner of the NCHSAA, there had never been a Black or female commissioner of the association — she was the first. Now, she believes that could be playing a role in some of the happenings at the legislature.

Tucker pointed out that the endowment fund, which has received immense amount of scrutiny, was started in the early 1990s when Charlie Adams was the executive director. It continued and grew under Commissioner Davis Whitfield in the 2010s too. Both Adams and Whitfield were White men.

“There is a part of me, that personal side of me, who believes that this is more about me in that seat than when Charlie Adams sat in that seat or when Davis Whitfield sat in that seat, and if that is the case, then I am truly disappointed in the people who represent us in the General Assembly, that they would allow their feelings and their beliefs to rise to the point that they want to dismantle an organization that has 100 — almost 110-year history of providing athletic opportunities for students in our state,” she said.

Tucker said she believes her race and gender both have played a role in how she has been treated and the direction the investigation has gone.

“I think that there are people who, when they see an African-American female, or an African-American male for that matter, sitting at the top of an organization, that frustrates some people,” said Tucker. “I’m not saying … that’s what’s driven the individuals who spoke yesterday, but I can tell you that as an African-American, and as an African-American female, I certainly feel like the way in which I have been addressed, and the questions I’ve been asked, and the information I’ve been asked to share would not have happened had I not been an African-American.”

Tucker said Adams started the endowment in the 1990s before retiring in 2010, then Whitfield followed from 2010 through 2015. She said the endowment had grown substantially by that point.

“He was never called to the carpet, and he was never questioned by individuals in the General Assembly the way I have been,” she said. “I’m not going to mince any words. I do believe that plays into this. How much? I don’t know.”