The Louisiana High School Athletic Association takes its act on the road this week.
Six area meetings over a three-day period are designed to prepare principals from across the state for the annual convention Jan. 28-30 at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge.
What these area meetings might mean or may lead to as the LHSAA grapples once again with its public schools vs. private schools issues are key points for an open debate.
“In all the years that I’ve been in this association, I don’t think I’ve ever seen this much uncertainty going into a January meeting,” John Curtis Athletic Director/football coach J.T. Curtis said. “Things are just all over the place. Are we going to be in classes or divisions? Will we play in districts together? Will it be more than football with separate championships? You just don’t know, and I don’t think we’ll have an idea what to expect until maybe after the area meetings.”
The area meetings begin at 8:30 a.m. Tuesday with a Shreveport area meeting at Bossier City’s Airline High. The Baton Rouge meeting is set for 8:30 a.m. Thursday at the LHSAA office.
Area meetings typically involve a review of the items up for a vote on the convention agenda. The chance for member principals to meet incoming Executive Director Eddie Bonine is just as crucial.
Bonine, currently the Executive Director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association, won’t officially start until early March. He’ll be representing the LHSAA along with interim executive director Jimmy Anderson and President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic.
“I think it is important that every principal attend an area meeting because of what’s at stake,” Bonnaffee said. “The LHSAA is a group of 390 principals who will have a short period of time to evaluate the key issues and make some major decisions. I think a lot of principals are anxious to meet Mr. Bonine and listen to the things he has to say. We’re also going to set aside a significant amount of time for the principals to ask questions.”
It has been over a month since the LHSAA introduced Bonine as its new executive director. Though he is still under contract with the NIAA, Bonine will attend the area meetings and convention. Anderson, the former LaGrange principal and LHSAA president, will preside over the convention.
“Regardless of what happens, I’ll leave that first meeting in Shreveport understanding more than I did before,” Bonine said. “I’ll learn more at every meeting. What I want to communicate to the schools is that I’m here to listen and to help. I want them to know I’ve sat exactly where they’ve been. I’ve been a teacher, a coach, an athletic director and an administrator.”
Bonine talks openly about waiting to get to know the major “players” in the LHSAA issues. Curtis and John Curtis is one, while Shreveport’s Evangel Christian is another.
It has been two years since member principals voted to split the LHSAA’s football championships into separate groups for select (private, some charter, laboratory and full magnet schools) and nonselect schools (traditional public schools). The championships won by the two football powers were cited as one reason the organization, with its majority of public schools, voted for the football split.
Curtis and Evangel Principal Albert “Bud” Dean said their schools favor a unified LHSAA. The LHSAA’s executive committee issued a position statement against widening the split over the summer.
One question skeptics have is whether Curtis and Evangel would play all the way up to the top classification if the LHSAA were to return to a traditional format.
The answer is yes. Both schools played up to Division I, the top level for select schools last fall.
“Evangel is and has always been in favor of all schools playing together. At the same time, we understand there will likely be that push to expand the split to other sports,” Dean said. “I would like to see the schools give Mr. Bonine some time to come in and get his feet on the ground.
“I’d hate for us go down the road where we’ve made major changes before he gets a chance. As much as I think, and a lot of other people think, that nine football championships is way too many, I think we could live with that another year if it leads to a long-term solution.”
What could that solution be? The LHSAA’s school relations committee developed a proposal that keeps the separate football finals but would reduce the number of title games to seven.
Three members of the executive committee, Ouachita’s Todd Guice, Ruston’s Ricky Durrett and West Ouachita’s Mickey Merritt, developed a independent plan that would reunite all schools and create a 6A class for Louisiana’s largest schools, along with those wishing to play up to the top class.
Guice said the authors plan some amendments and expect others to consider amending the plan. One key sticking point could be a 1.5 enrollment multiplier used to determine the classification for private schools. A 1.5 multiplier would push some current 2A schools to the 4A ranks. Several states, including Arkansas and Georgia, currently use 1.5 or a similar multiplier.
“If someone wants to amend it to change the multiplier in a way that would suit more people, I don’t think we’d have a problem with that,” Guice said. “In order to bring this back together, both sides will have to compromise.”
Many High Principal Norman Booker III has agenda proposals that would widen the split to include boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball. Over the summer the Louisiana High School Football Coaches Association kicked around another plan that is not currently on the agenda. It would reunite all schools in seven football-based classifications.
Bonnaffee said listening, not fiery rhetoric, will be crucial during the area meetings.
“What I hope is that people come into the meetings intent on listening to every presentation in order to understand all the proposals, not with the intent of making a rebuttal to a particular point that is made,” Bonnaffee said. “There’s a lot of material to cover.”