Garinger High School athletics need a change. Here’s how Charlotte-Mecklenburg can help

Tuesday afternoon, Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools officials helped Garinger High School with its fourth annual “Garinger Giveaway.” Food Lion donated more than three tons of food, hygiene kits, backpacks and school supplies for 300 families.

A media release made it clear the food and supply drive was for Garinger families only. And that was a good thing.

Here’s another way Charlotte-Mecklenburg Schools could help Garinger families: find their athletic teams a level playing field.

The Wildcats, and CMS, need to petition the N.C. High School Athletic Association to move out of Charlotte’s powerhouse conferences during the next conference realignment, which runs from 2025-29.

Further, to achieve athletic equity, Garinger needs to move down in classification, away from the state’s largest schools. Right now there are four classes in North Carolina. CMS should try to help Garinger move down one class, and maybe two.

NCHSAA commissioner Que Tucker said she didn’t know of a school requesting to move down two classes, but said it was possible. Schools in North Carolina regularly have requested to drop one, and some have been allowed to move down.

Despite taking a loss to East Mecklenburg Garinger was all smiles with their progression
Despite taking a loss to East Mecklenburg Garinger was all smiles with their progression

The Wildcats would have a strong case.

For around 30 years, Garinger sports, for the most part, have languished near or at the bottom of all CMS schools. Dozens of coaches have gone to Garinger and talked about the Wildcats needing stability and passion and energy, and just as many have left after a very short time on campus.

The only constant at Garinger, besides the coaching treadmill, is the losing — and it’s grating:

In September of 2017, the Wildcats beat Central Academy 42-0 in football to end a 55-game losing streak that spanned six seasons. Garinger’s losing streak was just four short of the N.C. record, set by Gumberry High from 1972-78.

Three times in the past 25 years, Garinger has had the longest active losing streak in North Carolina. Right now, the Wildcats have lost 23 straight games.

In December 2021, Garinger’s boys basketball team beat AL Brown 48-36 on the road, winning for the first time in three years. The Wildcats snapped a 57-game losing streak. Before that, Garinger hadn’t won in three years and had gone 9-103 in five years.

The coach of the team, Jermaine Walker, was in his second season and was Garinger’s fourth coach in six years. Walker is now athletic director at Harding.

Since that win, Garinger is 2-40 and the Wildcats have a new coach, LaTrez Chestnut, and a 27-game losing streak.

Garinger’s girls basketball team hasn’t had a winning season in more than 17 years. Last year’s team finished 9-15. That was the second time in 16 years Garinger won at least eight games. In 10 of those previous seasons, the Wildcats won three or less games.

Garinger players celebrate stopping East Meck from making a touchdown
Garinger players celebrate stopping East Meck from making a touchdown

It’s not always been this way at the school. Garinger won the N.C. 4A state football championship in 1959. It won the N.C. 4A basketball state championship in 1989. The late Dwight Clark graduated from Garinger in 1975 before, in 1982, he made what’s known as “The Catch” in the San Francisco 49ers NFC Championship win over the Dallas Cowboys.

In the 2003-04 season, the Garinger boys team was 28-4 and reached the N.C. 4A state semifinals.

And in the early ‘90s, the girls basketball team was a powerhouse, led by 6-foot-4 center Tiffani Johnson, who would be named to the 10-person Parade All-America team and named N.C. Ms. Basketball in 1994. Johnson went on to a successful career at Tennessee and the WNBA.

In recent years, the boys soccer team has also been good, but in most sports, Garinger doesn’t have lot of hope.

Former Garinger athletic director Tony Huggins said many parents that live in Garinger attendance zone don’t want their child to go there, so some attend Hawthorne Academy of Health Sciences, a magnet, and several other alternative schools in CMS. Garinger has a higher percentage of students that attend these alternative schools than many of their CMS neighbors, Huggins said, and among the students on campus, a lower percentage of them have traditionally played sports. Huggins said many Garinger students work after school.

So getting out of Charlotte leagues and away from large classification teams would help. The football team, for example, plays in a conference with Butler, Independence and Charlotte Catholic. Since 2000, those three have been nationally ranked, more than once, and have won more than a dozen state championships.

Butler beat Garinger 70-0 a few weeks ago.

Local coaches and athletic directors will tell you that if everybody who was supposed to attend Garinger actually went to Garinger, those results might be different. In an era where winning and college scholarships have been elevated like never before, parents are going to find ways to not go to Garinger, seeing it as a lose-lose situation.

But with a new conference and a new class, there will be new hope — and this time, it would not be fleeting.