Positive vibes at LHSAA task force meeting; some discussion about reuniting split football playoffs _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine

No one was ready to belt out a verse of the 1970s hit song, “Reunited and It Feels So Good.”

The first meeting of the LHSAA task force charged with finding solutions to the organization’s select/nonselect school issues left many thinking it may be possible for member schools to reunite more than two years after a vote to split its football championships.

“I believe that’s why we’re here,” Destrehan High Principal Stephen Weber said. “I don’t think we can survive if we don’t get it back together. I really don’t.

“Since we split in football, which was something I spoke in favor of, people have been saying I’m the face of the split in my area. That was not my intention. My intention was to say ‘look we need to do something about the issues we have.’ That didn’t happen. I think we had a lot of positive discourse.”

The meeting held Wednesday at the LHSAA office lasted nearly four hours, but included a lunch break. A second meeting is planned for July in conjunction with the LHSCA Coaches Clinic. The meeting was not open to the media or the public. LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine and spokespersons were available afterwards to discuss the meeting.

“It was very professional and points were taken,” Bonine said. “I think that (reuniting the schools) came out loud and clear. I did hear that more from the select schools in the room. But I heard it enough from the nonselect schools that I came away with a positive feeling from it.

“It gave me goose bumps to see the dynamic in the room. They were young and old. You had 12 years in coaching vs. 40 years and philosophies from different parts of the state. I think we found some common ground. What it comes down to is that until we’re ready to follow our own freaking rules, we can’t accomplish a lot.”

Bonine said the group of approximately 60 coaches and administrators called not only for strict enforcement of the rules but also for tougher consequences for those who violate rules.

The meeting opened with a PowerPoint presentation by Bonine. He formed the task force as a way to find solutions to the select/nonselect school issues that have become increasingly evident since a January 2013 vote to divide member schools into separate football playoffs for select (private, magnet, laboratory and some charter schools) and nonselect schools (traditional public schools).

Task force members spoke after lunch. Bonine said there was balanced input from select and nonselect schools. Nonselect schools discussed schools at the heart of the issues, including football powers like John Curtis and Evangel Christian.

Bonine said Curtis football coach/athletic director J.T. Curtis provided a watershed moment. Curtis addressed the group for approximately 12 minutes.

“Near the end, ‘I said John (Curtis) they mentioned your name 11 times, and now it’s time for you to address some concerns,’ ” Bonine noted.

Traditional public schools make up approximately 70 percent of the LHSAA’s member schools. Some have called for the split to include other sports. The make-up of the task force reflects the 70-30 membership dynamic.

Weber, Teurlings Catholic Principal Mike Boyer, Notre Dame football coach Lewis Cook and West St. John football coach Robert Valdez were selected to speak for the group.

Like Weber, the others said they came away with a positive vibe.

“Being one of the younger guys, I was kind of in awe,” Valdez said. “The fact that you were able to get all these people in the room was impressive. I thought Mr. Bonine did very well with his introduction. There are still a lot of things to discuss, but I thought people got to voice their opinions. We’re fighting for the integrity of the organization and looking to come back together.”

Cook said there was a new dynamic — urban vs. rural schools.

“It’s not just about changing rules,” Cook said. “It’s about changing the mindset all of us have. Whether we like it or not, we all live in a select society. People can and do make choices about where their kids go to school. All schools located in or near urban areas can attract more students than a rural school. The differences should be recognized.”

Boyer of Teurlings said he was impressed, noting “When you see 70 people and a single moderator, things can get out of control. But he (Bonine) did a good job.

“They (task force members) learned about the finances and some of the other things affecting the LHSAA. At the end of the meeting one person said they’ve been around a long time and this was as transparent as a director has ever been about the LHSAA.”

Boyer said an apparent desire to reunite LHSAA schools was the common thread.

“The key point I thought was this overwhelming feeling that everybody was speaking truthfully, but guarded at times,” Boyer said. “Public, private, Catholic, lab school … everybody was saying we need to get back together.”