Time to face reality

Published 12:00 am Wednesday, March 3, 2004

My hat is off to Cal Bryant for his column this past Tuesday (March 2, 2004) concerning the misaligned North Carolina Independent School Athletic Association tournaments.

Not only as a fan of high school basketball, but the father of two seniors on a team that advanced to the tournament and in the tournament, it’s time for someone to take a reality pill.

The down side, for the small independent schools in eastern North Carolina, of obtaining the honor of attending the state tournament is the known fact that you can’t win it – not unless you’re stacked to the hilt with recruited ball players like the metro area schools.

It’s heartbreaking to know your final games are going to be decided by how much money someone was willing to pay to have the best team on the 1-A level. But that’s the feeling you get when you attend anything past the second round games.

Northeast Academy, Lawrence Academy, Halifax Academy, Hobgood Academy and Ridgecroft School all made it to the NCISAA tournament in Raleigh this year. None of them stood a chance of taking home the trophy and it wasn’t because they didn’t have good teams. Every one of these teams had great talent, but it was homegrown talent. Talent that you nurture from the time you watch a student shooting jump shots on the playground in their sixth grade year to their prime in high school.

When you look back over the years and see the changes that have occurred in NCISAA play, it’s enough to really upset a person.

Northeast, who actually hosted the very first tournament in 1973 and lost the championship game to Vance Academy, will never again be known as anything other than a team able to get to the tournament… not a real contender.

Northeast, like Ridgecroft and Lawrence, doesn’t play the caliber of ball these larger schools from the Raleigh and Charlotte areas play. They don’t play the caliber because they don’t recruit ball players.

There needs to be some rethinking when it comes to the way the NCISAA handles the tournament. There simply needs to be a rule that high school teams cannot recruit ball players… period.

If not, then the smaller independent schools need to pull out and form their own association that makes play more fair for everyone involved.

On a more positive note, even with the current NCISAA alignment the way it is set up, there’s a horn worth tooting. Shannon Jenkins, a senior at Northeast Academy, and Thomas Ward, a senior at Lawrence Academy, both made the All State NCISAA 1-A Team.

That says a lot for these two students when it comes to being compared to every 1-A independent school player statewide, to make this elite team of ball players. It’s something of which they should be proud.

Especially when you look at these other teams. The young men and women that make up these teams are awesome ball players, many of which are college bound ball players.

For Shannon and Thomas to be recognized for their talent among all the ball players in the state is, well, awesome within itself.

From this opinion, both Shannon and Thomas could easily go on to college level play. Both are talented, and both are smart ball players.

So often teams love to wrap themselves with players who can shoot and/or dribble, but the true test of any good ball player is to know the game in their head. Just being able to run out on the court and shoot a basketball isn’t enough.

However, as these two players have proven time and time again, to be able to know what needs to happen and have the ability to make it happen means much more to the overall team.

I’ve watched Shannon play for the past seven years and she’s always been a smart basketball player. Watching Thomas play this past year, the same can be said – he simply knows the game well enough to do more than just shoot or dribble.

I wish both of these players the best in the future, no matter what they decide to do with basketball.

As for the future of NCISAA basketball, I hope someone in charge will take a look at how uneven and unfair this has become and I hope others have the courage to step up and make something happen.