Owen, Cardinal Gibbons athletes honored by NCHSAA

Annual meeting also addressed reclassification issues

The North Carolina High School Athletic Association is still formulating a response to Gov. Roy Cooper's five week extension of Phase 2 of the state's coronavirus response plan (Shawn Krest / North State Journal)

CHAPEL HILL — The North Carolina High School Athletic Association held its annual meeting and awards ceremony at UNC’s Dean Smith Center on May 2.

Among the winners honored at the event were four high school coaches from across the state.

Tarboro High football coach Jeff Craddock and Lake Norman High men’s lacrosse coach James Brugger were both named National Federation of State High School Associations Section 3 Coach of the Year.

Craddock led the Vikings to an unbeaten season and 1AA state title in 2017 and repeated as state champions again this year, bringing his career total to five North Carolina state championships.

Brugger’s Wildcats have been to the 4A state championship match three years in a row, winning the 2018 title with a 22-2 season and an upset over Middle Creek.

Two other coaches were recognized with the Toby Webb Outstanding Coach Award, given to one male and one female coach each year who have had an impact on the lives of student-athletes, and students in general, by encouraging them to succeed, helping to develop self-confidence, ambition, a sound work ethic, and other skills necessary for success in the students’ later lives.

Enka High softball coach Jennifer Kruk was the recipient for female sports, while Northwest Guilford High wrestling and golf coach Ron Bare won for male sports.

Kruk has coached at her alma mater since 2008, leading the Jets to two state titles. Bare has coached the Vikings for 29 years, serving as a football assistant before taking over wrestling and golf. His team won the 2019 Dual Team Wrestling state title.

Two student-athletes also took home major honors at the ceremony. Owen High School’s Chesney Cooper Gardner and Cardinal Gibbons High School’s Jalen Brooks won the Pat Best Memorial Trophies, given annually to the Female and Male Athlete of the Year, respectively.

Gardner, a senior, competed in three sports for the Warhorses. She won Conference Player of the Year in volleyball, All-Conference and First Team All-Western North Carolina in basketball, and is currently ranked first in the state in discus and shot put on the track team.

Gardner’s athletic accomplishments are all the more remarkable, considering she was temporarily paralyzed following a 2012 car crash. Then 11 years old, she suffered a broken hip and fractures to her pelvis and spine, causing doctors to fear she may never walk again.

Brooks also competed in three sports, winning Conference Defensive Player of the Year as a defensive back on the Crusaders football team. He also started at fullback, rushing for 17 touchdowns. He’s also a two-time state champion on the wrestling team, winning all 82 of his matches in his junior and senior years. Brooks also joined the lacrosse team as a senior, playing the sport for the first time. He will go on to play football at the U.S. Military Academy in West Point.

Terry Sanford High School took home the big organizational honor, winning the 2018-19 Exemplary School Award, which honors the top overall school in the state in terms of “total program.” It takes into account athletic success, scope of athletic opportunities offered, facilities, community interest and involvement, and academics.

The big news from the NCHSAA’s annual meeting concerned a potential change to classification. In her remarks to the organization, Commissioner Que Tucker announced that an expected realignment would be delayed by a year because the NCHSAA was looking into ways to add a fifth class of schools.

Currently, North Carolina Schools are placed in 1A, 2A, 3A or 4A based on a number of factors, including size. The organization would like to add a 5A classification, but current NCHSAA bylaws require it to have just four classes.

While the board of directors work on a proposed amendment to the bylaws that would pave the way for 5A, the group will also pursue subdividing 4A, adding a 4AA classification as a temporary solution.

Assuming the proposed amendment is completed and submitted, the entire membership would vote on it at next spring’s meeting. It would require support from three-fourths of the NCHSAA membership in order to pass.

Assuming it passes at that time, the board would begin working on a plan for realignment, which is expected to be completed in March 2021 and take effect in August 2021.

The membership also denied a reclassification appeal by Tuscola High School. Citing an 8.6 percent drop in enrollment and the closure of a feeder elementary school, Tuscola was seeking to drop from 3A to 2A. Principal Todd Trantham pointed out that Tuscola’s enrollment was now smaller than 13 schools currently in 2A.

After the board unanimously rejected the request, citing the organization’s requirement of a 10 percent enrollment drop in order to reclassify, Tuscola took its appeal to the membership.

Needing a two-thirds majority to override the board’s decision, Tuscola fell far short. Just 44 of the 110 votes cast were in favor of reclassification.