Where would Catholic go?

South Charlotte school faces uncertainty as NCHSAA fate comes down to vote

by Andrew Stark

Charlotte Catholic’s football program has won three state championships in the public-school-dominated N.C. High School Athletic Association, but the Cougars could be looking for a new athletic home, depending on the results of voting from other NCHSAA members.C. Jemal Horton/SCW photo

For at least the next year, Charlotte Catholic’s athletic home will be in the ME-GA 7 3A/4A conference as a member of the N.C. High School Athletic Association.

Anything beyond that time period, however, suddenly has become an uncertainty for the school along Pineville-Matthews Road.

Last week, school officials learned that the NCHSAA’s member schools were voting to determine whether Charlotte Catholic and other parochial, non-boarding schools can remain in the organization.

Charlotte Catholic, along with Raleigh Cardinal Gibbons and Kernersville Bishop McGuiness, are parochial schools that charge tuition and are free to draw students from any area, unlike public-school NCHSAA members. The lack of geographical boundaries, and the fact that some tuition assistance is given to students, are what a group of Rowan County schools claim are unfair athletic advantages and what has ultimately led to the other 387 NCHSAA-member schools’ vote on whether Charlotte Catholic will retain its eligibility in the association after the next scheduled realignment for the 2013-2014 school year. A three-fourths majority (or 293 votes) is required for the NCHSAA to change its constitution, and votes were due April 24.

Charlotte Catholic Principal Jerry Healy said if his school ultimately has to leave the NCHSAA, it wouldn’t have to do so until the 2013-14 academic year, when the organization’s next scheduled conference realignment is slated to go into effect. But the school hasn’t given up hope that it will remain in the NCHSAA.

“As a worst-case scenario, we would have to move on,” Healy said. “As a diocese, we would have to sit down and come up with our best options. We have talked some about it but don’t want to go there.

“How do you take a 50-year member in good standing, and (one that) has always done things the right way, and then arbitrarily eliminate that member? I don’t know of any other organization anywhere that could get away with that. We are very much taking the high road and hoping people will recognize the goodwill we have put in and how we have always done things.”

The harsh reality, though, is that on May 3, when Charlotte Catholic learns the results of the voting by principals of NCHSAA schools, the Cougars could be without an athletic home. Charlotte Catholic’s financial-aid practices also are being reviewed (see story on page 1), which also could result in the school’s NCHSAA ouster, regardless of the outcome of the aforementioned voting.

What would Charlotte Catholic’s options include if it is voted out of the NCHSAA? The answer is not totally clear.

Become an independent?

Healy said Charlotte Catholic wouldn’t become an independent school without a conference. He said it’s important to him to make sure his athletes are in a conference and at least have the chance to compete for state championships.

Join an N.C. private-school league?

An option could be to enter the N.C. Independent Schools Athletic Association, which also houses south Charlotte private schools Providence Day, Charlotte Latin, Charlotte Christian and Charlotte Country Day. The aforementioned schools compete in a conference called the Charlotte Independent Schools Athletic Association.

NCISAA Executive Director Chuck Carter said the organization is always looking to expand and has recently extended membership to four schools for next season and deferred a decision on two additional schools until next year.

However, based on sheer size – Charlotte Catholic enrolls grades 9-12 and has around 1,400 students – there would be an immediate advantage for the Cougars, who would have up to four times the enrollment of some NCISAA schools.

According to the organization’s website, Providence Day has the NCISAA’s largest high school enrollment (552) while Country Day (489) is second.

“(Charlotte Catholic and the other NCHSAA parochial schools) would be in a tough place,” Carter said of the schools’ prospect of entering the NCISAA. “I feel for those schools. They are well-organized, dutiful and follow the rules and regulations.

“I know the athletic people very well at Bishop McGuiness, and I know the reputation of the football coach (Jim Oddo) at Charlotte Catholic. They are men of great integrity, and they would be in a tough place if they are not reinstated. I really feel for them.”

Carter said Cardinal Gibbons, which was a member of the NCISAA until 2005, simply got too large for its conference and usually had two to three times the enrollment of teams in its Raleigh-based conference. He fears Charlotte Catholic would run into the same issues.

“Their enrollment would not exclude them from membership with us,” Carter said, “but it would be tough to have them competitively balanced. With some sports it would be OK, but they would certainly have an advantage in others.”

Matthew Gossage, president of the NCISAA, said if Charlotte Catholic is voted out of the public-school association, heads of school and athletic directors would vote on allowing it membership into the CISAA. But he was not certain Charlotte Catholic would be an ideal fit.

“It would be a process,” said Gossage, who’s also head of school at Concord Cannon, a CISAA member with an upper-school enrollment of 340. “I feel like (Charlotte Catholic is) in a bad spot because, for me, enrollment would be a big issue. But we would all have to sit down and discuss it.”

Enter a Catholic- or Christian-school league?

Several of the new schools admitted to the NCISAA come from even smaller Catholic- and Christian-school leagues, but Carter said he’d be shocked if those leagues were an option for Charlotte Catholic.

“Those schools are typically way smaller than our (NCISAA) schools, so that would almost certainly not be an option,” Carter said. “Those schools are in a tough spot if they are voted out because they probably best fit in the public-school leagues based on enrollment.”

Enter an Independent NCISAA league?

The geographical distances would present challenges for entering a league such as the NCISAA’s Class 3A Triangle Independent Schools Athletic Association, a conference of Raleigh-area teams, including Cary Academy, Durham Academy, North Raleigh Christian and Raleigh Ravenscroft.

The TISAA’s members all have enrollments of at least 584, but the three-hour travel distance for Charlotte Catholic would make it an unlikely landing spot.

The only other 3A NCISAA league is the Piedmont Athletic Conference of Independent Schools, which houses Winston-Salem’s Calvary Baptist, Forsyth Country Day, Greensboro Day, High Point Christian and High Point Wesleyan.

However, Wesleyan Christian is the largest of those schools with 346 high school students.

Enter an out-of-state league?

With the Charlotte Catholic campus a little more than four miles from the South Carolina state line, there’s a miniscule chance it could join a South Carolina private-school league. It’s not unprecedented for schools to be members of out-of-state athletic associations. For example, Rock Hill Westminster Catawba and Georgia-based Rabun Gap are NCISAA members. But the chance of Charlotte Catholic taking a similar approach, Carter believes, is “highly unlikely.”

No easy answers

If the NCHSAA members ultimately vote to remove Charlotte Catholic, Healy isn’t sure what his school would do. While the NCISAA – and the CISAA – seems like the next-best fit, Healy isn’t counting on that.

“We have a wonderful relationship with all of those (CISAA) schools,” Healy said. “I’m not sure we would be able to just slide into that conference, and I don’t know if it would fit with what we want.

“Ideally, we would like to stay where we are. And, in the end, I think (we) will.”

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