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Tim Stevens, J. Mike Blake, Clay Best, Aaron Moody, and Elliott Warnock follow all the news for high school athletes from Wake, Orange, Durham, Chatham and Johnston Counties. 

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Emptying the notebook on the proposed superconference

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Hope everyone has had a chance to read our story today on a proposed unprecedented 14-team, dual-division conference that would merge the Tri-Nine and PAC-6 conferences in 2013.

There was a lot going on behind-the-scenes leading up to this proposal in recent weeks. Many of it did not or could not make the story, so I'll post it below.

One man's conspiracy theory

Eric Sigmon, a Green Hope booster club board member, thought he had found the easiest solution to keeping his school in the Tri-Nine after researching the State Department of Public Instruction’s database of each school’s Average Daily Membership – how many students are enrolled in the school for a given month.

He noticed that East Chapel Hill’s ADM shot up after the first month, which is the one used by the NCHSAA for realignment as well as subdividing for football playoffs.

It's important to note here that there are two DPI numbers for the first month -- the original and revised.

East Chapel Hill’s ADM used for realignment was 1,401 – just 10 shy of the smallest 4A school. The revised number for the first month was 1,425 and East Chapel Hill's ADMs over the next two months were 1,434 and 1,440.

“It was odd to me that the one month that they used for their snapshot of enrollment numbers was a low number. And then they revised that number… and it was up (24) students,” said Sigmon. “If you used the revised numbers or the numbers for any other month, they never qualify for 3A... I just think there was a conscious effort to get these guys into 3A. And they’re not a 3A school.”

Moving the numbers to play just to fall into a lower cutoff for athletic purposes seems far-fetched.

ADM numbers are used by the state to determine per-student funding for each local education agency. If schools regularly miss on students, it could come back to cost that particular school system teaching positions the following year.

And according to DPI Student Accounting Excecutive Ozella Wiggins, a first-month ADM going up by double-digits after first revision is not unusual.

“It can go up based on an error – students were not accounted for who should have been,” she said.

Revised versions are often needed for the first month of the school year, as it is the most active in students enrolling in new schools, dropping out from other ones and transferring.

So why does NCHSAA not use revised version?

Because the DPI does not send over the revised version, just the first. The revised version is not a part of the process.

And the first numbers usually don't come in until October, with a few weeks to adjust those ADMs to account for students in early colleges, academies and ninth-grade centers before the state playoffs begin. The revised first month might not be done by late November or December.

“We haven’t finished the revised (numbers) by the time (the NCHSAA) needs their information," said Wiggins.

Not listed on the DPI numbers are federal schools like Lejeune and Cherokee plus private schools like Cardinal Gibbons and Charlotte Catholic. It leaves the NCHSAA scrambling to attain those first-month (20 days) numbers in time for football playoffs.

"We were pushing and prodding and poking DPI to get those numbers in the first place," said Whitfield

After receiving the numbers from DPI, the NCHSAA works with each local education agency to see if tweaks need to be made. This is where schools see their ADMs subtract those enrolled in early colleges and add those academies and ninth-grade centers. Other schools may need to be changed slightly. 

A few systems have different definitions of what a "month" is, so some numbers on the DPI are from the first 18 days, while others are 22. The NCHSAA finds what it is for the first 20.

NCHSAA commissioner Davis Whitfield said that there would not be any going back and ask for the revised-first-month numbers only start the process from scratch. East Chapel Hill will still be a 3A school in 2013.

Starting over would mean receiving a second batch of numbers from the DPI, then working again with the 100+ learning education agencies in the state plus private and federal schools on adjusting all those numbers.

"That's just going to delay our process. Our process has been that we have take those first 20-day (ADM) numbers, and that's what we use," Whitfield said, adding that the current process is consistent for all NCHSAA members.

Schools report the first month ADM to the DPI. The revised first-month numbers are sent to the DPI automatically through a document used by NC WISE, an online student information management system.

"We have to pick a point in time that we take that snapshot that is a consistent snapshot for all schools across the NCHSAA," said Whitfield. "And right now our board has determined that the first 20-day number is the number that we're going to use to do our work, in this case for realignment."

The old way of doing it

Two realignments ago, the protocol was to take the "best 1 of 2" ADM numbers in the school's first two months.

But according to NCHSAA associate commissioner Rick Strunk, the schools said years ago that there was little need for it.

"For just about every school, Month 1 is larger than Month 2," said Strunk.

By moving to just the first month, the NCHSAA also got an earlier jump on the realignment process.

Safeguarding against manipulation

What Sigmon was worried about -- changing of the ADM numbers just to fit into a different classification -- is actually something the NCHSAA safeguards against with its current process.

The NCHSAA could take its ADM figure for realignment from any month, but chooses the first - which has two main benefits.

1) Schools are unlikely to manipulate numbers for the first month as it has correlates with state funding.

2) Schools have just a little idea how close they are to the cutoff line between each classification. If taken from another point in time, schools would know exactly where they stack up against the others after seeing the published ADM list from the first month after it's been posted for football playoffs.

"Schools could see where they are on the cutline and potentially... make changes," said Whitfield.  "You want to be able to guard against that... We've got to make this process transparent in one sense but we've also got to protect it in another to make sure the integrity of our process is maintained."

Government gets (somewhat) involved

Though its resolution was exclusively symbolic, the Cary Town Council drafted a statement of opposition, citing that the two schools not be separated from other high schools were Cary residents attend – like Middle Creek, Athens Drive, Apex and Cary High.

Parents get involved

Green Hope parents fueled the charge for an online petition campaign directed at the NCHSAA to keep the Falcons in the Tri-Nine. It received 2,890 signatures – almost all in a five-day stretch.

The outpouring came on the heels of the first week of the basketball playoffs, where Green Hope had incidents in a boys basketball game at Person and girls basketball game at home against Hillside.

Many parents cited "safety" concerns with joining the PAC-6.

Administrators from Green Hope and Panther Creek have never cited safety. They stuck with the original arguments -- keeping rivalries intact, keeping the community intact, the expected loss of gate revenue.

“That probably didn’t put a good taste in some of those people’s mouths, but that happens at all types of games,” said Green Hope athletics director Wayne Bragg. “I’m sure it fired some of our parents up, but that was based more on emotion.”

Added Panther Creek athletics director Todd Schuler: “I think it’s important that everyone who’s involved, wether it’s parents, children going to our schools, teachers, coaches or athletics directors, we need to be mindful of keeping things fact-based and looking at things objectively,”

No 4A/3A league for PAC-6

The realignment committee shot down a proposal by Bragg to pair the five current PAC-6 teams with Southern Durham and current 3A schools Oxford Webb and Northern Vance.

The move would have kept Panther Creek and Green Hope in the Tri-Nine and also cut down travel for Webb and Northern Vance - who were once members of the league about a decade ago.

But the realignment committee tries to avoid split leagues when possible, and Bragg had not contacted the 3A schools were interested in it.

Precedent in other states

I was unable to find another state that has a league that splits into divisions.

However, the Virginia High School League has a few 10- and 11-team conferences in its most populated areas. The schools aren't grouped into divisions and they often play a full football schedule without a non-conference opponent.

Multiple mega-conferences

One proposal from WCPSS athletics director Bobby Guthrie would have grouped different PAC-6 schools with Wake County conferences. Guthrie's idea had Jordan and Hillside joining the Tri-Nine and Riverside/Person/Northern joining the Cap-8.

That would have left the Tri-Nine with 10 teams (no Harnett Central) and the Cap-8 with either 11 or 10 teams, depending on where Enloe was grouped (Greater Neuse or Cap-8).

But of course, nobody in the Cap-8 wanted that, so it didn't get very far out of initial negotiations. Also, it wouldn't likely had zero support from Durham schools, whereas Schuler's plan had at least two.

Nobody's stealing your golf program

At least a few Green Hope parents took to local television to voice their concerns about joining the PAC-6, and by doing so brought up a reason nobody else had. The parents were scared that by joining the PAC-6, Green Hope would have to give up its varsity golf program.

After all, none of the 2013 PAC-6 teams would have girls golf except for Panther Creek.

This, of course, is a ridiculous concern that could be alleviated with the tiniest bit of research.

East Chapel Hill is currently in the PAC-6. They have a varsity girls golf program. It competes in something called the "Carolina Central Conference" with other schools - Chapel Hill, Cardinal Gibbons, Northwood, Granville Central and Carrboro - who don't have enough teams in their respective conferences to put together a full season.

Green Hope and Panther Creek's girls golf programs will likely join that league in 2013 or continue to play with the Tri-Nine. The NCHSAA can be flexible with conferences in these kinds of sports, as it already is in lacrosse and some 1A and 2A soccer and volleyball conferences.

Nobody drops a sport because nobody else in the conference plays it. You just find others who play.

Distance never came up

Throughout this process, not once has a Green Hope or Panther Creek administrator cited mileage as a reason for not joining the PAC-6.

There are a number of reasons why that's a good call.

For one, on the statewide level there are a number of teams who have to travel far longer distances to more places. An appeal on travel would work for a school who is 30 miles from its closest foe. Not so much for Green Hope or PC, which are about 11 miles from Hillside.

Also, the argument simply doesn't hold water. The @GreenHopeSports twitter account, which often promoted signing the petition, said that its 80-mile trip to Fayetteville for the girls basketball regionals was "not much longer than some of the PAC-6 drives may be."

That's patently false.

Panther Creek is 2.5 miles from Green Hope, and here are the distances from Green Hope to the other five PAC-6 schools for 2013

  • Hillside, 11.5 miles
  • Jordan, 15.1 mi
  • Riverside, 22.6 mi
  • Northern, 23.7 mi
  • Person, 47.7 mi

Of course, that is longer than some of the short drives in the Tri-Nine, which -- aside from any trip involving Lee County -- currently has no drive longer than 20 miles. Harnett Central would be 29.4 miles from Green Hope.

While we're on distance, the longest trip in the 14-team conference proposed by Schuler would be Person to Harnett Central -- 82.7 miles. Of course, each sport's road trip from one to the other would be every-other-year given the way the scheduling would work.

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About the blogger

J. Mike Blake has been the Sports Editor for The Cary News and Southwest Wake News since October 2008. He holds two "unofficial" NCHSAA records in two different sports - highest career free throw percentage (2-of-2) in basketball and fewest career singles victories (zero. sigh.) for tennis.
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