MURFREESBORO, Tenn. - When this year's Spring Fling ended on Saturday afternoon, it marked the last official duty for Ronnie Carter as executive director of the Tennessee Secondary Schools Athletic Association. Mr. Carter had been the head of the state's governing body for high school sports since 1986, but announced his retirement in January.
"I've left every job I've ever had earlier than I expected to," Mr. Carter said. "I'm not tired of the work by any stretch, but I felt like it was time. My wife retired last year, and there are a lot of things we want to enjoy together for a while."
Bernard Childress, who had served as an assistant director for the TSSAA the last 14 years officially will become the new executive director Tuesday.
Mr. Carter, 63, spent more than 40 years in secondary education and athletics as a teacher, coach, official and administrator. He taught mathematics and coached football, basketball, wrestling and track for 11 years in the Nashville area before joining the TSSAA staff in 1978.
Under Mr. Carter's direction high school sports in Tennessee became a national trend-setter in state tournaments and classification issues. Tennessee is the only state with a five-sport, Olympic-style spring sport championship tournament, better known as the Spring Fling. That event began in Chattanooga in 1993 before moving to Memphis and eventually to Murfreesboro and generates more than $3 million annually for that city's economy.
The state also was one of the first to offer a central site for football state championships, beginning in 1982, and almost every other state tournament is held at a college facility. Mr. Carter also was instrumental in the addition of softball as a sanctioned sport in 1978 and later, as executive director, oversaw the additions of soccer and bowling as sanctioned sports.
The biggest story involving the TSSAA during Mr. Carter's tenure was the 10-year legal battle between the organization and one of its member schools, Brentwood Academy. The case began over recruiting violations committed by the Nashville-area private school and eventually was heard by the U.S. Supreme Court twice before ending in 2007. The TSSAA has never lost a court case.
"Ronnie is an institution in this state," said Ooltewah High principal Ed Foster, who has been a 12-year member of the TSSAA's Legislative Council. "It's hard to imagine high school sports in this state without him being involved. He's known throughout the country for his leadership and the class in which he conducted himself and the organization."