(Second in a two-part series)
The top official governing high school athletics in Delaware has become one of the nation’s foremost authorities on prep sports.
Kevin Charles, executive director of the Delaware Interscholastic Athletic Association (DIAA), recently completed a one-year term as the 53rd president of the National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS). The presidency capped a four-year term on the NFHS board of directors.
With the demands of his job slowing a bit over the summer, Charles sat down with The News Journal to discuss the top issues facing high school athletics, both nationally and in Delaware.
What are some of the issues facing DIAA over the next few years?
“One of the goals I had coming in was to really take a hard look at our regulations. I think our regulations are good and solid, but in some ways they are a 20th-century tool. They were written in the 1970s and 1980s, and they’ve been updated all along. But this is the 21st century. So I think we really need to take a hard look at some of our regulations to make sure they still fit. If they don’t, how do we tweak them to make them better? If we don’t need them, get rid of them. If we need other ones, bring those in.
“Also, I’d like to look at coaches’ certification. Right now, to be a high school coach you need to have a current CPR certification and be board-approved. That’s it. We prefer you be an educator-coach, but that’s not mandatory. So I’d like to get into some coaches’ certification. We’ve actually been meeting with our football coaches, who approached us about getting more into that area. That involves training in the fundamentals of coaching, concussions, first aid for coaches, appropriate relationships with athletes, bullying, hazing, all of that.
“Also, we want to provide more opportunities for students with disabilities. That’s a focus that we have right now. And increasing our revenue stream so that we can pay for these things without impacting our ticket prices too much. … It has been six or seven years since we have had any significant increase in ticket prices, and I would rather not have an increase. I’d rather find other revenue streams, so marketing is one of the things we’re going to be taking a look at.
“Finally, helping our schools with compliance. One of the things I noticed in my term as president is that there are a number of states beginning to create compliance teams that go out to member schools and do compliance audits. Not in a gotcha way, but let’s see where you are, and how can we bring you to a better place. I’m looking to move in that direction.”
What has been the toughest issue you have faced as executive director of DIAA?
“Without question, one of the more difficult periods was dealing with Red Lion Christian Academy when it was going through all the turmoil. That was probably the most challenging period of my tenure here. I think it was a great example of how the membership comes together to collectively enforce our regulations. It’s not just DIAA. DIAA is our member schools.”
How has school choice changed athletics over the last few years?
“It definitely has an impact. When I went to high school in 1972, even I, as a student, could look at the student body and say, ‘Here’s your gifted and talented kids. Here’s your average, middle-class, solid kids that participate in everything. Here’s your crowd that doesn’t want to participate in anything, maybe cause a little bit of trouble but they’re not too bad. And then you’ve got your segment of the school population that’s not really there to get an education. And if you’re not there to get an education, you’re probably going to wind up causing problems.’
“When you look at all of that, and then you begin taking out the gifted, and then you take out a good part of those solid, middle-class students and you reconstruct your school environment, it changes everything. It’s not just athletics. It’s everything in a school. It’s the arts, it’s academic performance and it’s athletics. It touches everything in the school. I think our schools do a remarkable job producing good students and good athletic programs and emphasizing sportsmanship, given some of the challenges that they face.”
Some people have called for private schools to be separated from public schools in Delaware high school athletics – replacing Division I and Division II with private-school and public-school divisions. What is your opinion on that?
“I certainly see the concern that folks have. Private schools, by their very nature, recruit students. They have to in order to survive. What we expect them not to do is recruit students on the basis of athletics. … But the reality of the situation is that with school choice, public schools recruit for students, too. I’ve heard advertisements on the radio for students to come to a certain school district.
“I know there are significant differences in the way private schools and public schools operate. I think the difficulty in Delaware, the challenge that we have, is numbers. If you’re in Ohio or New Jersey and you look at the number of private schools and you can separate them out and they can compete fairly for a championship among themselves, then maybe that’s the best way to do it. In Delaware, if you look at our large private schools to compete in a championship in football, who are we talking about? Two or three schools. I don’t think that’s a meaningful experience for those students. I think the way we’re doing it works well, and I also think that things tend to be cyclical.
“Everybody points, for example, to Sallies. They talk about the dominance of Sallies, and they do win a lot of state championships. But they don’t win football every year. People have that thought in their mind, but they don’t win football every year. They’ve never won a basketball championship. Things run in cycles.
“For years, Tower Hill dominated field hockey and lacrosse. Now, a public school [Cape Henlopen] dominates field hockey and lacrosse. I think some form of what we’re doing works best for Delaware. We just have to make sure that we’re doing all we can to make sure everybody has an equal opportunity to compete. And then what you do with your equal opportunity is up to you. If you hire good coaches, make your facilities the best they can be, you’ll be able to compete at your own level.”
Tell us about some of the high school sports governed by other states that aren’t currently contested in Delaware.
“New Hampshire just started high school bass fishing. Kentucky, Indiana and Illinois also have bass fishing. There are a number of states that have championships run by the state association in robotics. Minnesota is huge in that.
“Hawaii has a high school surfing championship. Vermont has snow skiing championships. Every state has its own little niche. I think we even have a couple of states that have clay-shooting state championships, which is kind of interesting when you think about where we are with gun control and safety in schools and that sort of thing.”
Would you like to see DIAA add any sports in the future? If so, which ones?
“I love ice hockey, but it is an expensive sport. I don’t know if we’ll ever get to the point where it is an official sport here. We have a good organization that helps run the high school clubs now, so it works pretty well. … I’d like to see boys volleyball. If we could get enough schools to participate in boys volleyball, that would add a nice touch.
“I personally would like to see some sort of spirit competition. Member schools are a little reluctant, and the problem right now is budget. We’d certainly like to do more if we could, but you have to be able to pay for all of this.
“I’d like to see more in the way of interscholastic unified sports championships. We got things started with our unified track events this year, and we want to build on that. But I’d like to see some unified team events – basketball or soccer, maybe.
“Bowling is another area. I wish we could do more in bowling. … And one I would love to see is a way to get more girls participating in golf. I would love to have a girls golf championship. This past year for the first time, we awarded a medal to the top finishing female, who almost won the whole tournament [Caesar Rodney’s Samantha Leite finished third overall]. I’d love to see girls golf grow and take off.”