Earl Vaughan Jr.
President Theodore Roosevelt is believed to have coined the quote, “Walk gently and carry a big stick.”
As GM, he made no frivolous use of that stick, swinging it only when the situation called for it.
North Carolina Republican State Senator Tom McInnis, who is running against Frank McNeill for the District 21 seat in November, apparently does not think President Roosevelt’s advice was sound.
For the past few years, McInnis has wielded a stick at the North Carolina High School Athletic Association at Chapel Hill. The result is that he and some of his friends in the state senate left the NCHSAA in the shadow of itself and weakened its ability to properly oversee high school sports in North Carolina.
It started in 2019 when Anson County High School, located in today’s McInnis District, was kicked out of the NCHSAA football playoffs.
Anson broke an NCHSAA member-approved rule that was intended to combat a growing problem with tag team fights at sporting events.
The rule stated that any team that had three or more players ejected in a single game was barred from participating in the state playoffs. Anson had six sent off in a game with rival Richmond Senior who was called off at half-time by mutual agreement of the coaches due to what was described as crisp game.
Anson won his first conference title in 10 years, but the penalty kept the team out of the playoffs.
Shortly after Anson’s head football coach Ralph Jackson informed his team of the penalty, he was interviewed by WSOC-TV’s Genevieve Curtis.
He said, “If you’ve done something, acknowledge it. Be a man about it. I can stand in front of you now and tell you that my guys made a mistake.
Enter McInnis, who apparently disagreed. He contacted the NCHSAA to ignore the rule that Anson had clearly violated.
When he got pushed back, he started swinging that stick. The NCHSAA isn’t a perfect organization, and some rules could be changed, but McInnis wasn’t aiming for precise, corrective surgery.
It is impossible when you wave a legislative baton the way he did.
He managed to convince some Senate friends that the NCHSAA was simply too successful and had too much money in its coffers. He failed to mention that the money was obtained through perfectly legal means and that much of it was earmarked for specific situations and could not simply be distributed to member schools at will.
McInnis sought to disband the association and start from scratch, placing high school sports under the direction of a state-appointed committee with politics as the driving force in deciding who runs it.
Forget the fact that the NCHSAA had been running for nearly 100 years, spun off from the University of North Carolina system and relying on real schoolchildren – principals, superintendents, athletic directors – serving on its board of directors and taking the voting decisions.
Also forget that nearly every professional organization in the state that works with the NCHSAA issued statements supporting the organization as McInnis walked away. Among them were NC Athletic Directors, NC Coaches, NC Football Coaches, NC Basketball Coaches, NC Wrestling Coaches, National Federation of High School Associations of state and a host of local and regional arbitration associations.
McInnis and company swept them all away and pushed their misguided bill through the senate.
He finally ran into a little problem when he got home. There, McInnis’ plan was watered down considerably. The NCHSAA was allowed to continue, but was stripped of the power to set fines for serious violations like using ineligible players or holding illegal practices. Catastrophic insurance, which was previously paid for by NCHSAA, must now be paid for by each school and is available from the office of the insurance commissioner.
The result was unnecessary legislation that made it harder for the NCHSAA to do the job of supervising high school athletics, and all because a state senator made a completely justified decision against one of his schools. personally and had the power to wreak havoc against the organization which applied a legal sanction approved by its own members.
Due to the redistricting, McInnis is running in a new district in November, District 21, which includes the northwest corner of Cumberland County as well as Moore County.
McInnis proved by this incident that he is not soft-spoken and is capable of swinging the legislative baton for personal, not positive reasons.
It’s time to replace it with a rational, reserved voice in the state senate that does what’s right for everyone, not just themselves.
Earl Vaughan Jr. has just retired after nearly 40 years in journalism. He is a member of three halls of fame. Twitter: @EarlVaughanJr.