Lawmakers hear from students, schools on potential changes to SC high school sports

Significant changes to the high school sports landscape in South Carolina could be coming from the State House.
Published: Sep. 20, 2023 at 7:07 PM EDT|Updated: Sep. 20, 2023 at 9:16 PM EDT
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COLUMBIA, S.C. (WCSC) - Significant changes to the high school sports landscape in South Carolina could be coming from the State House.

A lot of South Carolinians with an interest in high school sports believe the playing field isn’t fair right now, especially when some of the state’s public charter schools are competing.

But the answers to who’s to blame and what the solution is depend on who you ask.

Now state lawmakers are stepping in to try to balance out the playing field.

Last week, an ad hoc House of Representatives committee focused on high school athletics met for the first time and heard from the commissioner of the South Carolina High School League.

On Wednesday, it was the public’s turn to weigh in.

Some told lawmakers that public charter schools, like Gray Collegiate Academy in West Columbia and Oceanside Collegiate Academy in Mount Pleasant, have become too dominant, fueled in part by being able to enroll students from any part of the state and not a particular zone, as traditional public schools are bound.

“We can’t go somewhere else and pull a kid in,” Chesnee High School Athletic Director Jim Hyatt said. “Because we lose a good pitcher, we can’t just go get another pitcher. We have what we have.”

But others argue not every student is getting the opportunity to compete in sports, as some traditional public schools forfeit games against their charter school competition as an act of protest.

“We are right now prohibiting our children at Gray from competing at a competitive level because adults can’t get along,” said Andrea Gregory, whose daughter plays tennis at Gray Collegiate Academy.

Gray principal Brian Newsome also told lawmakers his school operates within the boundaries of its charter and has faced no violations for recruiting, which some have speculated drives the school’s athletic success.

“Those who are spreading misinformation are only doing so to create divisiveness and controversy,” Newsome said.

The committee has before it several pieces of legislation that have already been filed on the subject, including ones that would create a new governing body for high school sports under the state Department of Education, that would require charter and private schools to move up classifications and play against larger traditional public schools, and that would restrict charter schools’ postseason participation.

“When you have a handful of schools that are dominating at that particular level, something’s not right,” Rep. Russell Ott, D-Calhoun and the sponsor of one of the bills, said.

Some students from Providence Classical School, a private school in Rock Hill, spoke in favor of legislation that would allow them to play sports for their local public school because their school is too small to field teams.

“All we are asking is to have the same eligibility that homeschoolers and charter school students have, to try out for their zoned middle school or high school team,” student Gianna Rudolph said.

There is no statutory deadline for this committee to submit recommendations.

But House Education and Public Works Committee Chair Shannon Erickson, R – Beaufort, said she would like to have some proposals to present by the time the new legislative session begins in January.

The committee plans to hear more input from the public at a yet-to-be-scheduled future meeting.