Mike Drummond is working in a dim storage room at York Prep Academy, pale March light slanting through the blinds.
He hasn’t yet carved out a home for himself at the school where he was hired Feb. 5 as athletic director. But he’s already working on his mission -- helping York Prep find a home for its athletic teams.
York Prep and Drummond, the former South Pointe athletic director, sent a letter to the South Carolina High School League last week detailing the school’s ambition to become a member. It’s the state’s largest high school sports entity. York Prep opened in 2010, but has never belonged to a governing body like the SCHSL or the South Carolina Independent Schools Association.
(Drummond reached out to SCISA last month by phone and email about possibly joining the state’s private schools athletic organization but never heard back.)
York Prep first petitioned to join Region 4-3A, an SCHSL region that includes Indian Land and Chester, but was denied membership. Chester Athletic Director Ricky Campbell said many of the Region 4-3A schools’ fall and winter schedules for the coming year had been set and the timing wasn’t right.
York Prep managing director Brian Myrup said: “I think you’re gonna have to have a set out process for schools that is very objective instead of subjective, of ways to get in, as opposed to ‘well, we’re gonna vote and let these schools go in if their region is OK. But over here their region doesn’t want to, so they’re not gonna get in.’”
So Drummond and Myrup then sent the letter to the SCHSL and commissioner Jerome Singleton asking to join the SCHSL as an at-large member, which would require a two-year transitional period before York Prep could join a region.
“They’re a public school and all public schools are eligible to become members,” Singleton said. “We would treat them the exact same way.”
Drummond said that as of March 23 the SCHSL hasn’t confirmed receipt of York Prep’s letter asking to join the league.
The at-large path worked for Gray Collegiate Academy, which went through a similar process as a public charter school in 2014.
Gray Collegiate had been shot down by several regions in the Columbia area -- for reasons similar to the ones given in Region 4-3A -- before successfully joining the SCHSL as an at-large member. Gray Collegiate representatives appeared before the SCHSL’s executive committee and successfully stated their case. Gray Collegiate football coach and AD Adam Holmes remembers the process to become an at-large member took a few months.
A great reputation
York Prep didn’t appear this eager to join the SCHSL last summer. The Herald wrote a story detailing York Prep’s open recruiting of basketball players. The recruitment didn’t break any rules since the school didn’t belong to a governing body. York Prep basketball coach Frank Hamrick also was the school’s athletic director at the time, but he stepped aside to focus solely on coaching basketball.
That’s where the 59-year old Drummond stepped in. He retired from South Pointe at the end of last school year but after six months was ready to get back to work.
“Why not?” he said. “Not really retirement age.”
Drummond was enticed by the idea of molding a fledgling athletic program at a school that has a greater emphasis on academics than many traditional public schools.
York Prep was enticed by Drummond’s experience.
“Here’s a guy who’s got a great reputation in the community, who’s got experience as an athletic director, let’s see if we can talk to him and see what ideas he has,” Myrup said. “He was interested and it ended up being a great fit for us.”
Drummond’s job would be much easier if York Prep joins the SCHSL. After the two-year transitional period, York Prep would join a region and have large chunks of each athletic team’s schedule predetermined. It should also be easier for the school to schedule nearby public schools, some of which wouldn’t play York Prep because of it wasn’t subject to SCHSL rules.
That should cut down on travel for York Prep teams, many of which have to travel to Charlotte for games. It would also create rivalries and give Patriot teams postseason opportunities.
“It would be good if our kids could play for something, instead of just playing games, matches,” Drummond said. “Right now they’re just playing to be playing.”
What about basketball?
If York Prep was accepted into the SCHSL, where would that leave its well-known basketball program?
Hamrick’s basketball team has multiple college prospects, including several whose eligibility under SCHSL zoning rules would be questioned. Drummond said that’s one of the first things he would need to clarify with the league.
To determine athletic eligibility, charter schools that play in the SCHSL adopt the nearest traditional public schools’ zoning boundaries. In York Prep’s case, it would draw athletes from the same zoning boundary as South Pointe.
York Prep students that didn’t play sports could still live anywhere they wanted. But if York Prep joined the SCHSL, its student-athletes would have to live in the South Pointe zone to play sports for York Prep.
It’s not clear if York Prep would somehow be subject to the Rock Hill school district’s athletic transfer rules that were imposed in January, 2017.
“We would have to follow state high school league rules so that would probably have an impact on kids who wanted to transfer here during high school just for basketball,” said Myrup.
When interviewed last summer, Hamrick shared a vision of high school sports that differed from the traditional idea of kids playing for their neighborhood school. He told The Herald the way charter schools got students, let alone basketball players, was already vastly different from public schools.
“We’re trying to entice you to send your kid to me,” he said. “Right out of the gate we’re different.”
The possibility of York Prep joining the SCHSL came up last summer, to which Hamrick asked: “does it further what we can do? Does it make the experience better for all the kids? Does it enhance what we’re doing? Because I answer to a managing director and he answers to a board.”
Myrup said making the sports experience better for all of York Prep’s 15 or so teams -- not just Hamrick’s basketball team -- was one of the reasons York Prep now wants to join the SCHSL.
“He did some great things with basketball and we were hoping to see some of the other programs move along in the same type of a manner,” Myrup said.
Though things are changing dramatically for York Prep sports, Hamrick said he will be back to coach at York Prep next season. Hamrick is friends with Gray Collegiate basketball coach Dion Bethea and watched as the War Eagles won the 2A state title this season.
“I told Mike I was good with anything he wanted to do,” Hamrick said recently in a text.
‘Welcome us warmly’
The charter school idea has taken hold in American education and its continued growth has been strengthened in part by Betsy DeVos’ presence as the head of the Department of Education. She’s a staunch advocate of alternatives to traditional public schools.
“There are gonna be more public charter schools popping up around the state and around the country,” said Drummond. “The thing is finding where we fit in. I think that’s gonna be a major goal for public charters schools, where we fit in athletically.”
Drummond said he hopes joining the SCHSL will lend more credibility to York Prep, while Myrup said “we wanted to give (students) the chance to compete for something meaningful, a state championship.”
If championships are one of the measuring sticks, then it’s been a successful move for Holmes and his Gray Collegiate programs.
“We get money funded from the state department just like any other public school around. We’re just a different school, we do it a different way,” Holmes said. “I felt like they welcomed us warmly and helped us do everything we needed to do to become members.”
There is an SCHSL Executive Committee meeting scheduled for April and York Prep hopes its membership application will be on the agenda. If York Prep can begin its two-year transitional period this coming school year, it should be a full SCHSL member by the next realignment in 2020-21.
But if York Prep doesn’t make the April executive committee meeting, the school and its athletic director will have to figure out what to do next. At least Drummond will make that decision from the office that he plans to move into very soon.
Where would York Prep land if it joined the SCHSL?
There are at least 10 public charter schools that are already SCHSL members. Gray Collegiate is a member of Region 3-2A, while Charleston Charter, Lowcountry Leadership, Palmetto Scholars and High Point Academy are 1A schools. Greer Middle College, Brashier Middle College, Greenville Tech Charter and Fox Creek all play in 2A. Oceanside Collegiate is almost finished with its two-year transition and will join a 2A region this fall.
With 479 high school students, York Prep would be a 2A-sized school, but would have to play in 3A because of the SCHSL rules bumping non-traditional public schools up a classification.