North Carolina HS Soccer Player Challenges State Eligibility Requirements

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A North Carolina high school girls' soccer player is pushing the state high school association to reconsider its eligibility requirements after she was benched for allegedly not taking enough classes in the fall. 

“To me, soccer is just, I get to play with my best friends, and it’s really frustrating that I don’t get to be a part of it,” Caitlynn Guarino told WNCT

The NCHSAA requires students to pass a minimum workload of three courses on a block schedule in order to participate in sports the following semester. Guarino, an above-average student, was recommended by the school to enroll in advanced placement classes. 

“With AP classes running a full year instead of a semester, those credits are not awarded til the end of the year. And because of that, the state was saying that she was ineligible to play,” said her mother, Maureen Guarino.

Onslow County Schools filed an appeal to the NCHSAA on Caitlynn’s behalf. 

“Unfortunately, when it went to the state level for sports, it was denied,” said Caitlynn’s mother. “We did push it to the State Board of Ed, unfortunately, that was denied as well.”

The Department of Public Instruction says that the NCHSAA can waive the eligibility requirement if it is found that the rule fails to accomplish its purpose. 

“The rule has to be changed, it’s dated. It wasn’t made for a student like Caitlyn, she has a  4.4 GPA. She’s number 12 in her class,” said her mother.

In a statement, Onslow County Schools says, “With the prevalence of block scheduling across the state, this has undoubtedly not been the first time a student-athlete has faced this situation.”

Unfortunately, DPI says its panel decision is final and cannot be appealed. 

The full statement from Onslow County Schools reads:

“The eligibility standards for high school sports across the state are enforced by the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (NCHSAA). The academic eligibility standards, which are established by the North Carolina State Board of Education, require students at a school on the “block” format schedule – the format followed by all Onslow County Schools (OCS) high schools – to pass three out of four courses during the previous semester. For Spring 2023 sports, the “previous semester” would have been Fall 2022. Registration for Fall 2022 was done during the spring semester of the 2021-2022 academic year. 

“Due to scheduling of Advanced Placement courses for Fall 2022, the student ended up being .5 credits short of the required three courses necessary for spring semester eligibility. The Richlands High School principal, with the full support of our superintendent, submitted a request to the NCHSAA to grant a hardship waiver from the scholastic eligibility requirements. This request was denied by the NCHSAA.

“The RHS principal, again with support from our superintendent, then submitted an appeal to the NCHSAA’s decision. The appeal was heard by a three-person Appeals Board panel whose members serve on the North Carolina State Board of Education (NCSBE). Representatives from both the NCHSAA and OCS presented evidence at the hearing. The panel upheld the decision of the NCHSAA.

“The administration at RHS has been extremely supportive in their efforts to find a positive resolution to this situation. They, along with others who have reviewed the case, recognize this student’s outstanding academic performance and their importance to the athletic program at RHS.

“With the prevalence of block scheduling across the state, this has undoubtedly not been the first time a student-athlete has faced this situation. While the focus of our schools is on ensuring our students have the courses required to graduate, OCS will be reviewing our internal processes and procedures to better review student-athlete academic eligibility. 

“RHS will be reaching out to the NCHSAA and NCSBE, as well. They plan to encourage these organizations to take a closer look at the state’s academic eligibility standards and see how they might be able to work together to ensure students end up not being penalized when they take upper-level courses which are offered on a non-traditional schedule.”

The full statement from NC State Board of Education:

“The General Assembly has given the SBE the authority to establish rules for participation in high school athletics in the public school system, including those rules related to eligibility. The General Assembly allows for the SBE to enter an agreement with a non-profit organization for the administering and enforcement of such rules and the SBE has entered an agreement with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association (“NCHSAA”) to fulfill this purpose.

“Under this agreement, the NCHSAA has the authority to enforce eligibility rules. The NCHSAA may also waive any eligibility requirement if the NCHSAA finds the requirement “fails to accomplish its purpose” or “works an undue hardship on a student who has lost eligibility due to circumstances that make participation impossible, such as prolonged illness or injury.” Any public school unit (“PSU”) can appeal a final decision of the NCHSAA regarding a student’s eligibility, including the decision to deny a hardship waiver. This appeal is heard by an independent appeals board appointed by the SBE.

“Both the PSU and the NCHSAA then have an opportunity to present evidence and argue their case during a hearing before a panel of no fewer than three members of the appeals board (“Panel”). Under rules adopted by the SBE, the Panel will affirm the NCHSAA final decision “unless a majority of the panel determines that the final decision is not supported by substantial evidence or affected by an error of law.” 

“The Panel’s decision is final and not subject to further appeal.”

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