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North Carolina High School Athletic Association Member Schools Approve Moving from Four to Seven Classifications Although State Senate Bill Could Void the Change

By Tim Gardner

Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) commissioner Que Tucker notified its more than 400 member schools Tuesday (April 18) that the organization will expand from four classifications to seven beginning in the 2025-26 school year. 

According to the NCHSAA, which is headquartered in Chapel Hill, votes were submitted by principals of member schools with input with their local superintendents and Boards of Education as well as other school officials. Deadline for votes on the proposal was April 14.  Three-fourths of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA) member schools had to vote “yes” on the proposal in order for it to pass. Therefore, at least 324 of the 432 member schools voted to approve the amendment. Any schools that failed to respond to the vote by the deadline counted as a “no” vote, opposed to having seven classifications and to remain at four.

Exact voting totals from each school or by how many votes the proposal passed have not been released by the NCHSAA.

It’ll be the first time the NCHSAA has expanded since the 1969-70 school year.

Currently, the 432 schools are divided into four classes. Under the new change, each class will be capped at 64 teams. That will bring North Carolina more in line with neighboring states.

Tennessee has 294 schools in six classifications. South Carolina has 229 schools in five classifications. Virginia has 320 schools in six classifications. And Georgia has 458 schools in eight classifications.

North Carolina high school teams will be grouped into classifications based on school size alone. And adding additional classifications could create some travel issues for schools, both for conference play and in the postseason playoffs. To solve that, the NCHSAA may have some split conferences with different classifications.

The passage of the proposal puts several High Country schools into higher classifications, which is determined by Average Daily Membership (ADM) numbers during the current 2022-2023 school year.  Watauga (1,541) will move from 4-A to 6-A, Avery (607) and Mitchell (497) will move from 1-A to 2-A and Ashe County (914) will go from 3-A to 4-A.  

During the NCHSAA annual meeting, May 2nd and 3rd, Tucker is expected to discuss the vote and its potential changes with the organization’s Board of Directors and member schools. 

The meeting will be streamed and followed by a Questions & Answers session for the media May 3rd.

But despite the vote to move to seven classifications, a North Carolina Senate Bill could void the measure.

Senate Bill 636 includes a provision that would require any organization that administers athletics in North Carolina to be limited to four classes. The State Senate has the authority to override or change any measure the NCHSAA and its member schools adopt or already have. 

Among the provisions the bill labeled “An Act to Revise Oversight of High School Interscholastic Athletics” includes:

* Any student who does not live in a school district that student is attending will not be allowed to play sports “if the student’s enrollment in that unit is solely for athletic participation purposes.

* A student found ineligible cannot participate in postseason play for one year after discovery of the violation.

* A student who receives priority enrollment as child of a full-time charter school employee could be subject to a one-year ban of postseason participation if the Office of Charter Schools determines the priority enrollment was awarded for athletic purposes.

* Teams will be based on biological sex, determined by biology at birth.

* There would be four classifications, based on enrollment, with charter and non-boarding parochial schools playing up.

* Conferences would be based solely on geography, division classification and enrollment figures.

* Allowing a non-profit organization, like the NCHSAA, to operate high school athletics, but be much more tightly governed by the state. The NCHSAA would be asked to reduce fees for member schools, take fewer monies from state tournament games, agree to annual audits, not be allowed to solicit grant funding and sponsorships from third parties as well as be restricted in providing scholarships or grants to players and schools.

North Carolina lawmakers could also amend the bill and allow the seven classifications to be adopted.