Raleigh, NC – As we prepare to mark the beginning of another year, it’s worth taking a moment to look back at all that happened in 2022 in North Carolina high school sports.
There were big stories throughout the year — from the COVID-19 pandemic, to the growing shortage of officials, to engagement issues. We’ve seen heartwarming and inspiring stories, but also sad stories. The record fell. The players made their dreams come true in the next round. We’ve also rounded up some of the best in HighSchoolOT Honors.
Here’s a look at the year in review with HighSchoolOT.
Pandemic stories persist but change
In its third year, the COVID-19 pandemic continues to affect high school sports. In the early days of 2022, we’ve seen schools and districts once again implement mitigation strategies such as reduced audience capacity and reinstatement of masks. But these changes were short-lived. Most of the pandemic related stories in 2022 were about recovering from the effects of the pandemic. The first positive sign is that for the first time since 2019, NC State and UNC have returned the national basketball championship.
Although COVID-19 doesn’t (thankfully) make headlines every day in the world of high school sports, the effects are still being felt in some areas. In August, Kyle Morton caught up with the Washington County football team. The Panthers had hoped to play their first full football season since 2019 this fall. The 2020 season was pushed back to spring 2021 and the school district refused to play due to the pandemic. In the fall of 2021, the Panthers played five games before the season was shut down again due to several incidents. Washington County played a full season of football this fall, going 4-8 overall before falling to West Columbus in the first round of the state playoffs.
The shortage of officials is a crisis
A statement from the National Association of State High School Associations in February was a sign of things to come. NFHS has announced the formation of a consortium to find ways to address the shortage of high school sports officials across the country. According to NFHS data, 50,000 officials have suspended high school sports nationwide. The consortium was convened in April and the NFHS issued a report calling for behavioral change. Sportsmanship was a concern for officials, the NFHS said.
In August, Triangle Football Officials Association Chief Steve McNeil told HighSchoolOT that there was a shortage of officials that could affect some teams’ ability to play on Friday nights. This is not limited to football, in fact it has affected other sports more.
We got a better idea of how bad the situation was in late October when the NCHSAA released some of the results of a poll of high school athletic officials for all North Carolina sports. The survey found that more than half of North Carolina’s incumbents have considered leaving their jobs in the past two years. One of the reasons officials quit was the poor sportsmanship of fans, coaches and players. Most officials say that sportsmanship today is worse than it has ever been. The study also found that compensation is a major factor affecting the shortage of officials.
In November, HighSchoolOT broke the story that North Carolina basketball officials planned to strike in January if the NCSAA didn’t approve a pay raise at its December board meeting. A few days later, the board approved a 10 percent pay raise for all officials in all sports, eliminating the policy that officials in charge of one game were paid less per game than officials covering doubleheaders. We don’t know if it will be enough to prevent a full-scale strike because it didn’t add up as much as basketball officials would have liked. Still, Steve Schwartz, chairman of the committee that polled county officials, said he hopes to buy the NCHSAA some time to continue working on the issues officials have raised.
The NCSAA will continue to oversee high school sports
For more than a year, the NCHSAA’s future was uncertain as the Legislature studied the association and enacted legislation that would dramatically change high school sports in North Carolina. By March 15, 2022, the NCSAA was required to enter into an agreement with the State Board of Education. By the time March arrived, no deal had been made, but things moved quickly earlier this month.
On March 4, the State Board of Education announced an agreement with the NCSAA. The agreement changed how the NCSAA governs high school sports and the appeals process. A few days later, the NCSAAA Board of Directors announced that it would accept the contract proposed by the State Board. The contract was signed on March 14.
However, the story did not end there. The NCHSAA needed the membership to approve an emergency rule change to comply with the new contract and state law. Changing the bylaws is no easy task, requiring a 75 percent vote in favor of the entire membership, a benchmark that other amendments have failed to pass several times in previous years. However, just weeks after the charter change was announced, a majority of members voted to approve the change in May.
In June, the 2021 NCHSAA Review Committee scheduled a meeting to discuss the NCHSAA. The hearing was brief and gave the State Board of Education an opportunity to update lawmakers on progress. There was no real news during the trial.
The NCSAA will continue to operate high school sports in North Carolina for at least four years. The current contract with the State Council is due to expire and then be renewed.
Guaranteed high school sports participation
Before the COVID-19 pandemic, high school sports participation was declining nationwide, with several sports experiencing steep declines, including in North Carolina. For nearly nine months, with the pandemic looming and sports in doubt, there was deep concern about the future of high school sports. When sports resumed during the pandemic, schools reported a significant drop in participation in HighSchoolOT, and these issues persisted in the spring of 2022.
The NFHS is responsible for releasing annual sports participation data. Until this fall, we hadn’t received any information since 2019 due to the pandemic. When the results were released this year, the numbers weren’t surprising, but they were alarming. High school sports participation in North Carolina has dropped 9.1 percent since the pandemic, according to the report. NCHSAA Commissioner Kue Tucker said the numbers show that high school sports in North Carolina are still recovering from the pandemic.
“Looking at last year’s participation numbers, it’s clear to us that we’re recovering from the COVID-19 pandemic,” Tucker said. “Given last year’s data, we believe that we may be experiencing some long-term effects of the outbreak. The shortened season of the coronavirus (COVID-19). Perhaps the shorter and overlapping seasons have resulted in greater participation in North Carolina than we have seen in other states. probably contributed to the sharp decline.”
There is reason to believe that the numbers for 2022-2023 will be better. I tried to add some perspective on this at the time. Many schools report increased participation during the fall sports season, with some even reporting record attendance. We should get participation number 2023 in August 2022-2023 or September 2023.
It’s not all about the plague, though. There are other factors that influence participation in certain sports and areas. J. Mike Blake tells the story of the struggle for inclusion that Union High School is witnessing in Sampson County.
More 2022 NCSAA stories
There were plenty of other big stories coming out of the NCSAA this year, and there was never a shortage of big news.
The NCSAA took a big step forward for girls’ sports in April when the board unanimously approved girls’ wrestling as a sport. Girls wrestling will be an official sport in North Carolina starting in the 2023-2024 school year. This means girls wrestling will be eligible to host the NCSAA State Championships instead of invitationals for several years. Before this season, there were 210 schools with at least one female wrestler and 125 schools with at least two female wrestlers. Girls wrestling is the first newly sanctioned sport in the NCSAA since lacrosse was approved in 2010.
In November, the NCHSAA announced that it had received a proposal to amend the rules to change the number of classes. Currently, the statute limits the number of categories to four, but the proposed amendment is expected to increase that number to at least seven. The proposed changes limit the number of schools in a particular category to 64. The proposal will be put to a vote of full members in early 2023. 75% of the full members are required to approve the proposal. A similar proposal failed in 2020.
At its winter board meeting, the NCSAA considered a proposal from the National Basketball Coaches Association to allow the 35-second shot clock for high school basketball to be implemented over a three-year period. A proposal modeled after the plan in Georgia didn’t make it out of committee, but it seems almost certain to become a part of North Carolina high school basketball. The question is when.
The doubles tennis playoffs will expand next year after the board approved a proposal from the NC Tennis Coaches Association in December. Beginning in the 2023-2024 school year, the boys and girls tennis playoffs will expand to 64 teams in Divisions 3A and 4A and 48 teams in Division 2A. 1A playoffs will remain with 32 teams.
In 2023, there will be some changes in conference and division assignments. The board voted to approve several midterm appeals submitted by member schools. There are also a few new schools that will join the association in 2023.
Can NCSAA Football State Championships Move From UNC & NC State? Maybe someday, but we don’t know when. NCHSAA Commissioner Kue Tucker told HighSchoolOT this month that the association has talked with the Carolina Panthers about hosting the national championship game at Bank of America Stadium in Charlotte, a move that could happen at some point. The press conference of this year’s national football championship was held at the stadium.