North Carolina High School Athletic Association

Remembering Charlie Adams: NCHSAA Staff share their thoughts

“Charlie Adams was a man who was kind and generous.  He loved all of us who worked with him, and it showed in his face every time we were together as staff and colleagues.  He was proud of and found tremendous joy in the work of the NCHSAA.  There was never a time, that I could not talk to Charlie or that he would not offer advice –asked for or not!  Some may have known him as I did, but those who didn’t, missed out on knowing not only a great leader, but more importantly, a great man.”

Que Tucker

“Charlie had a significant impact on my life.  Honestly, I don’t think I would still be in North Carolina had I not met and worked with Charlie.  He judged me by my work knowledge, and ethos rather than the number of degrees I held.  He saw something in me that I don’t think any other person sitting in his position would have seen.  I am eternally grateful for his vision, leadership, understanding, and being an incredible mentor, who accepted me as I am.

I believe that things happen in our lives for a reason.  Some things we will never truly realize the meaning of or the reason for, but one thing I am definitely sure of, Charlie was in my life to make me a better person.  Knowing him and spending special times can never be matched or duplicated.

Every day I had him in my life is a Blessing from God.  Every day I had him in my life is a reward from God.  Every day I had him in my life was a better day than the day before.

Friend by definition is “one attached to another by affection or esteem.” I’m attached by so much more.  I will forever respect and admire you. I am eternally grateful for your friendship, you made me happy to my soul.

I appreciate and love you for what you have given me, thank you for sharing your life and friendship with me.

Love and Friendship Forever,”

Pepper Hines
Executive Assistant to the Commissioner

"Charlie Adams was a good friend to all but my best friend.  He was an innovator and a visionary.  He brought North Carolina High School Athletic Association into the 21st century as one of  the leaders of State Associations in the National Federation.  His creative direction for young people was second to none.  

With the development of the Leadership Conferences, Student Services programs, creation of an Endowment Program as well as reaching the corporate world in the State which help enhance the playoff programs in all sports.

Charlie would walk into a meeting and call 90% of those in attendance by name.  He was a people person, caring and well respected. Charlie was a true leader of North Carolina High School Sports, for everyone. A friend to all!"

Dick Knox
Deputy Executive Director from 1984-2004

“I had the privilege of knowing Charlie Adams for close to 40 years and in a number of different capacities. It is tough to write about the loss of a mentor, and he was certainly one for me (as well as many other people, for that matter).

Much of what I know about leadership I learned from Charlie in a very practical way.  He was a visionary leader that helped propel North Carolina toward the forefront of state associations nationally, and many of them wound up asking about or wanting to emulate things that had proven successful in North Carolina. So the respect for him far transcended the borders of North Carolina.

He was very empowering to work for—actually, I can’t say it that way because he always said that I and anybody else at the NCHSAA worked “with him” and not “for him." He trusted us to do our jobs; in my case, I was one of the first people with a media background hired by a state association in the country, and he said I was the “expert” in that area. So he let me run with it. There were lots of duties that got added over the years, but he simply said, "to who much is given, much is required."

I got to know him well enough over the years that I had a pretty good idea of what he would say on certain topics. In fact, I had probably heard him articulate a position several times, so I could write a press release and quote him accurately without necessarily asking him for a quote.  My colleagues across the country couldn’t believe he gave me that latitude or didn't try to edit and correct what I wrote, but I had earned his trust over the years. 

But my fondest memories may be what happened in the office after five o’clock, when everybody else had left for the day and we were the only ones there.  During that time, we discussed work related things, but also matters of politics, family, and faith. I realize now, more than ever, what an awesome opportunity that was and how much I learned there sitting in his office.

After I retired, I began to attend the same community Bible study on Thursdays at lunchtime that he was in, so I had a chance to visit with him there.  I could tell two weeks ago that he was struggling more with his health issues, but he still had that amazingly positive attitude. 

Charlie was a larger than life person in many ways, and it’s rare you have a chance to have a personal relationship with someone like that.  I am blessed to be able to have called him a mentor, colleague and, most especially, a friend. His was a life well lived.”

Rick Strunk
Associate Commissioner from 1986-2016

"I had the pleasure and distinct honor of working with Charlie for almost 25 years at the Association.  He was one of the most thoughtful and generous men I have ever known.  We all knew him as the consummate people-person.  He knew and remembered everyone and went out of his way to make each person feel important and vital to our mission.  Charlie always loved what he was doing at the Association and made others at the Association feel the importance of what we were trying to do for the young people of North Carolina.  Charlie was an innovator among the leaders of high school associations across the nation.  He was widely sought by other associations for his ideas and insights.  But more importantly, Charlie cared!  He cared about what was good for our schools, our coaches, our administrators and our student athletes.  He cared about family, his family and also his Association family.  Hardly a day went by that he did not inquire about my family and my well-being.  

Charlie Adams was my friend and my mentor and I will miss him greatly!  He was a great leader, but more importantly, a great man.  High School Athletics in North Carolina has lost one of its most honored and accomplished advocates."

Carolyn Shannonhouse
Assistant Commissioner from 1986-2014

“Condensing thoughts, feels and words about Charlie Adams into a few paragraphs is nearly impossible after knowing him for almost 25 years. I met Charlie through another great, local Chapel Hill and UNC-CH legend, Dr. Ron Hyatt, when I was struggling to finish my Master’s degree at UNC-CH and was searching for a job. An entry level position opened, I interviewed and I lost out on the job to an intern. However, a few months later, Charlie called me up and wanted to meet to discuss an opportunity…we met at a fast food place in Kinston where I had taken a teaching and coaching job at Parrott Academy for the 1993-94 school year. Little did I know that a meeting over a chicken biscuit would lay a foundation to my current career with the North Carolina High School Athletic Association.

That “opportunity” Charlie shared with me led to what has since morphed into the existing Development and Marketing Division within the Association. Charlie was cutting edge in numerous respects and as many know, a visionary soul. His passion for the boys and girls of North Carolina and providing them opportunities to participate in high school sports programs fueled the fire behind the creation of the NCHSAA Endowment Funds and a corporate partner program. His forethought, despite opposition and questioning from some, laid the strong foundation for today’s NCHSAA Endowment which has blossomed and afforded the opportunity to provide funding to member schools and provide opportunities to student-athletes – the very vision that Charlie had so many years ago.

Professionally, he trusted my potential abilities and encouraged me to challenge myself in my Association work. He provided growth opportunities, pushed me, questioned me sometimes, but always led by example and passed along little “nuggets” of wisdom pertinent to the situation. He taught me the art of connecting with people – he’d say, “Ask them where they went to high school. Everyone loves to talk about him/herself and you’ll discover common ground and start building a relationship.” He also taught me that in order to effectively lead, you must be willing to get in the trenches and do the very things you ask of others – “walk the talk”.

On a personal note, Charlie was a mentor and friend to me. He’s watched me grow up, get married, have children while learning and growing professionally under his tutelage. He has been a father-figure to me and an inspiration. His kindness, thoughtfulness and unwavering loyalty to those within his extended family were second-to-none. His work family was family and he treated us as such. He always loved us even when we made mistakes and he challenged us to solve those mistakes so we would get better, not only as professionals but as people. He laughed with us during fun times, cried with us during trying times, extended his hand to help us up when we got knocked down and was the first person to pat us on the back when we experienced success. He was the consummate southern gentleman, a charismatic leader and a great friend that I will miss tremendously.”

Karen DeHart
Associate Commissioner

"Having served as a teacher, coach and school administrator, Charlie had a tremendous understanding, appreciation and respect for those working in our member schools, those who were in positions of influence in shaping lives and minds of so many young student-athletes. It was important to him that each NCHSAA staff member develop that same understanding, appreciation and respect.  When staff would return from statewide meetings and clinics, or at the conclusion of large meetings held at the NCHSAA, it was expected that he would go around the office and ask staff members “Who did you meet today, what is their role and in which school or school system?” He took great pride in hearing people compliment the staff on remembering them, and being helpful and courteous.  Occasionally someone would ask us how in the world did we keep up with so many people?  We would knowingly smile at each other sharing the thought…Isn’t it interesting how we all have that knack for learning names and faces? Charlie cared deeply and expected us to care, too. Mediocrity was not an option. He pushed us to be the best we could be and I cherish the years I spent serving and getting to know so many great people in the membership, as well as on the staff.  Having lost both of my parents in my 30s, Charlie stepped in and filled that void. The values and the lessons I learned from him are with me to this day and working at the NCHSAA is one of my greatest blessings. A great mind with a hearty laugh who touched many lives, and whose influence will continue for years." 

Kaye Koenig
Executive Assistant from 1985-2005‚Äč

"I owe my career to Charlie Adams.  My first interaction with Charlie was during my Senior year at UNC.  He came to present to our Exercise and Sports Science class about sports administration and the role of the NCHSAA.  Even though I knew of the NCHSAA, it wasn’t until hearing him speak, that I ever really stopped to think about what the NCHSAA was and what the association provided for high school student athletes.  Somehow this interaction lodged in the back of my head and after graduation, I made my way over to the NCHSAA office to ask about any potential position openings.  While there weren’t any permanent positions open, my inquiry led to an internship in the development department, which in turn had led to me being at the Association for over 12 years.

Being an impressionable 22-year-old, fresh out of college, Charlie instilled in me a determined work ethic and passion for high school athletics.  Every moment was a learning opportunity for me.  He never let a moment go by without providing some insight on how the business of high school athletics worked; or how to treat others with respect, dignity, and fairness.  Charlie opened doors for me to provide for my family and introduced me to many individuals, friends, and colleagues across the state.

I was crushed to hear about Charlie’s passing yesterday morning.  Even though the passing was not entirely unexpected, you are never prepared to receive the word that one of your professional mentors and friend has passed away.

Coincidentally, we begin our regional meeting swing across the state on the same day that he passed away.  He loved presenting at the regional meetings and there is really no better way to honor Charlie than to do something he loved to do, be out on the road presenting at regional meetings with Que.

I'll miss seeing Charlie (he never let me call him Mr. Adams) around; however, I am comforted to know that the last time I saw him a few months back, we had a chance to smile and laugh!

Rest well Charlie.  I hope that Buddy found you when you got to heaven, I know he has to have been missing you.  Give him a scratch behind the ears for me."

Tra Waters
Assistant Commissioner

"Having worked with Mr. Adams for almost 6 years before his retirement, I learned a great deal about professionalism, legacy, and the importance of education-based athletics in our society.  He loved the state of North Carolina, high school sports, his friends and colleagues, but most importantly, his family. 

When I left the office last Tuesday, I was not scheduled to return until the following Monday – the day after Charlie’s passing.  I don’t always look at the “Charlie Adams Memorial Bench” in the grass next to the entrance, but that day, I looked over and smiled without much thought.  As I reflect on my memories of Charlie today, two that I hold dear are not single occurrences, but things he always said to me.  First, he would say, “Where’s that smile?”  If I was already smiling, he would say, “There’s that smile.”  It became difficult not to smile when you saw Mr. Adams.  He always knew how to make someone feel comfortable and noticed.  Secondly, Charlie truly viewed and treated the NCHSAA Staff as family.  I remember him often joking about asking my parents if he could adopt me.  I believe it was his way of letting me know that he cared about me, not only as an employee, but also as a person.  He wanted to be a part of my growth and development as a professional and individual.  He was someone who you wanted to make proud.  I hope he knew that his involvement in my life was definitely noticeable. 

Whether it was his occasional visits to the office or hearing that robust voice down the hall saying, “Miss Tarboro,” I will miss Charlie immensely.  I will forever cherish the many memories that we shared, his influence on my career, and what he did for high school athletics in North Carolina and across the nation. 

Thank you, Charlie!  Keep reminding us to smile!"

Chiquana Dancy
Director of Sports, Championships & Student-Services

“Charlie instilled in all of his staff the art of communication in the most basic form – the art of a handwritten note.  Be it a thank you note, birthday card, or one of simply reaching out to say hello, Charlie touched many.

As director of the scholarship program, I passed along the art of a handwritten note to each scholarship recipient and asked that they write a note to the scholarship benefactor.  Charlie received many thank you notes and told me how much he enjoyed hearing from the recipients of the Charlie Adams Endowed Scholarship.

Charlie was a gentleman who will be missed.”

Mary Vrnak
Director of Fundraising and Scholarships

"Eleven years ago, Charlie Adams gave me a great opportunity to work at the NCHSAA.  I will always be grateful for that. As the Association grew Charlie led us with a calm and steady manner.  He was always there with a smile and words of encouragement. I had never met anyone who knew so many people and could remember all of their names! Charlie knew that I was a good match for the job even when I wasn’t sure. He was a leader and a mentor to me.  May he rest in peace."

Gary Cavanaugh
Business Manager

“While I was never on staff with Charlie, I was fortunate enough to be an NCHSAA intern for two weeks prior to his retirement.  Ever since, as our paths have crossed, you would have thought Charlie knew me my entire life.  I had the opportunity to see Charlie every other week, as we were both members of the Durham Sports Club, and he made it a point to not just speak but connect with me.  I am most appreciate of Charlie leading by example as he set the standard for not only state high school association work but more importantly how to treat people.”

Brad Alford
Director of Sports and Championships

“While I never worked for Mr. Adams, the times I was able to meet him he was incredibly welcoming and supportive. To me his legacy is more than starting the endowment, Hall of Fame or adding State Championships, it was in the way that he treated people, making them feel special even in the little details like a quick smile and remembering your name. He loved the Lord, and loved his family. He loved people, and he cared about young people’s future enough to invest his entire career in making education-based athletics a better place for generations to come. That is a life well-lived and worth celebrating. We all will miss him.”

James Alverson
Assistant Commissioner

“Charlie Adams was a man of extraordinary vision in many areas of his life both personally and professionally.  Not the least of which was his concern and commitment regarding the health and safety of student-athletes.  I am convinced that the positive impact of his leadership in this area extends beyond the student-athletes in the NCHSAA member schools to student-athletes statewide and even further to student-athletes beyond the borders of our state.  Student-athletes practice and play in sports safer and former student-athletes enjoy healthier lives because of the vision of Charlie Adams.”

Ken Brown
Health and Safety Consultant

“Mr. Adams gave me the opportunity to join the NCHSAA.  This has been more than a career highlight…it has been a lifetime highlight.  I will always be indebted to this gentleman for his leadership, vision and commitment to education-based athletics.”

Mark Dreibelbis
Associate Commissioner

“Charlie Adams was a leader with an infectious smile who instilled a sense of confidence and pride in all that he encountered. Foresight was one of Charlie’s greatest qualities as a leader, and the results of his insightful and forward-thinking leadership can be felt today. Aside from being a great leader, Charlie was a person who nurtured the gifts and talents of others, imparted his wisdom without trying, and left everyone with a version of that wide and bright grin of his. Charlie will truly be missed, but his legacy will live on through the NCHSAA.”

Whitney Frye
General Counsel and Associate Commissioner

“Because I started working at the NCHSAA in 2015, I did not get the privilege of working with Mr. Adams. But thankfully, when he was having a good day, he would stop by and see everyone at the office.  He treated me just like all of my colleagues who had work for him.  Somehow, he knew all the projects I had been working and told me to keep up the good work.  Shortly after one of these rare office visits, I received a lovely note from Mr. Adams.  He thanked me for my work and said he hoped I would be with the Association for many years to come.  I’m so grateful for the brief time that I was able to know Mr. Adams and I will cherish this note now more than ever.”

Juli Kidd
Director of Systems Administration