Rod Walker: Principals’ decision to split even further is a big blow to many New Orleans area schools _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Norman Baker of Many High School presents his proposal for new splits to the membership at the LHSAA convention. His measure passed.

Three years ago, the LHSAA’s vote to split into separate football championships for select and nonselect schools shocked some local coaches and administrators.

There was no shock or surprise when principals voted to expand the split to include basketball, baseball and softball, starting in the 2016-17 school year, to close the annual LHSAA convention Friday at the Crowne Plaza.

The vote was 182-120. And other emotions and thoughts came to mind for many on hand.

“Disappointment … that was the major feeling for me,” Catholic High Athletic Director J.P. Kelly said. “The feeling was different at the meeting. It was like people expected it.

“I think it hurts the level of championship competition in the state, and it will hurt a lot of schools financially. I also think it could hurt the LHSAA financially. But I think the biggest losses are the opportunities our students had to compete against each other in championship situations.

“Competition is a pure thing that erases all the barriers, including racial barriers and cultural barriers. We’ve been proud to compete against the likes of Barbe in the baseball playoffs and West Monroe or Acadiana in the football playoffs, and it’s sad to think that won’t happen now.”

Doyle Principal Tommy Hodges represents the flip side of the story. Like Kelly, Hodges praised principals by approving pay raises for officials. Hodges also praised the decision to create more championships.

“I’m very pleased that the pay raise went through; it was something that was very important,” he said. “If we hadn’t, there was the potential for a work stoppage that would have prevented our athletes from competing on the courts and fields.

“I’m very happy that Mr. (Norman) Booker’s proposal went through. We’ll still have to wait and see what happens. Hopefully, everything will work out fine and we’ll continue with business as usual.”

The split vote, coupled with the principals’ vote to rescind a parish boundary zone bylaw in favor of going back to traditional attendance zones for schools, was a game-changer for Scotlandville and McKinley. Because both schools draw students from the entire parish and not a smaller attendance zone, they will be deemed select.

“We figured that was going to be the case … that we would be select,” McKinley Principal Herman Brister Jr. said. “The vote is what it is, and now our job is to prepare for that. I’ll meet with my coaches and determine the next steps we take.”

Scotlandville football coach Robert Valdez said the fact that subvarsity eligibility for students outside the attendance zone is being restored helps ease some concerns.

“We have to look at where our attendance zone is,” he said. “We still don’t have a real attendance zone. I thought at some point (the sentiment) was leaning toward coming back all together. It sounded really promising and really good until air was let out at the end.

“I get the argument of doing it for the kids, but then again, what message are we sending? If you don’t like the rules of this game, then change it to fit you (and) therefore you can benefit in this game? I believe everyone in the room truly has the best intentions for their student-athletes, not the whole.”

Parkview Baptist Superintendent Don Mayes kept his comments positive, saying he saw no point saying anything else.

PBS football coach Jay Mayet had a different take: “I always wanted it to be back to being unified. People say the split is trying to level the playing field. I don’t believe that. You can’t tell me this is to make it fair or the arguing point that it breeds more competition. It makes the competition less when you’re getting 1-9 and 0-10 teams making the playoffs.”

St. Amant athletic director/football coach David Oliver pointed to pluses and minuses.

“I tell my coaches that once you get on the playing surface, it’s a football field and you’re all governed by the same rules,” he said. “With this, we felt like you’ve got to be governed by the same rules to get to the playing field. In that aspect, it was a win. But for the whole association, I’m not sure how it comes across.”

University High athletic director Jill White said the vote provided a harsh reality for select schools.

“As long as the public schools are in the majority, the select schools have no voice,” White said. “I think that’s sad for our students and the association. I understand what a majority vote means, and I do respect that. It seems like what’s best for our student-athletes doesn’t matter as much as what’s best for others.”

William Weathers contributed to this report.