Good-Time Charlie, the best right where he was

Published 10:30 am Monday, September 25, 2017

Maybe it escaped your attention this week, but Charlie Adams, former longtime director of the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA), passed away in Chapel Hill this past Sunday.  He was 81.

Charlie Adams first led Cary High, near Raleigh, to the 1954 state basketball championship before going on to college notoriety at East Carolina.  After a short stint teaching and coaching out of state, he returned to the Wake County area as a coach, athletic director, and assistant principal, before joining the NCHSAA in 1967. He led the NCHSAA from 1984-2010 after being promoted from assistant executive director and supervisor of officials when then-longtime NCHSAA director Simon Terrell hung up his whistle.

Adams was a visionary way ahead of his time. His gift was that he saw the impact high school sports could have on young people, and he understood all of the elements, big and small, needed to “grow the games.”

Today, more students than ever before have the opportunity to compete in more different sports, in better facilities, with better support from schools, coaches, training staff, and officials.

I was a young stumblebum of a sportscaster in Washington-Greenville and later Wilmington when I first crossed paths with Adams.  He came to a coaches-officials clinic, striking mane of silver-white hair, southern Carolina drawl behind a baritone voice of authority (would YOU argue any of his calls!), and lastly, a walking encyclopedia of high school athletics.  During an interview I mentioned about wanting to go ‘big-time’ with my career, and he plaintively asked me, “Why not be the best right where you are?”

I was jealous of big-market TV Friday night high school football shows.  But I’ll never forget the note he sent me once after watching the show I’d put together. It was just a simple thank-you for what he thought I was doing for high school athletics.

Once upon a time, eastern and western schools alternated state championships, and after seeing fans by the hundreds turned away at a gym door because the small venue could not contain them all, he pushed for neutral sites for title games. Bowman Gray Stadium at Wake Forest University was the first, then, NC State, UNC, and Duke followed.  Soon, it extended to basketball at schools like his beloved ECU and Elon.

He leveled the playing field by expanding football classifications from four to eight, with A and AA divisions in each of the four traditional classes. Now, a school with 900 students doesn’t have to play one with 1,700.

He believed sportsmanship and fair-play hadn’t gone out of style despite our living in a taunting, “in-your-face”, “look at me” time like we have now.

“I think kids may be different today because things are different today, and they’re different than when you and I came along,” he once told a group of sports reporters, “but that doesn’t make it right though.”

He started the NCHSAA’s Hall of Fame, with endowment games – those extra games played each year – where the monies raised go to fund the Hall. He also expanded the student services and corporate sponsorships came on board. He expanded its state awards: the Charlie Adams Endowed Student Scholarship goes annually to one male and one female high school athlete in North Carolina every year.

And he made it a Hall for everyone: black and Native American North Carolina coaches, athletes, and administrators are now included along with inductees from more prominent programs.

North Carolina has the Panthers, and Hornets, and Hurricanes now.  But thanks to the Charlie Adamses, they’ll have to share their stage with high school athletics.

Thanks, Charlie.  Don’t whistle too many calls up there in heaven. Down here, we’ll all be missing you.


Gene Motley is a Staff Writer at Roanoke-Chowan Publications. Contact him at or 252-332-7211.