There were no outbursts or open suggestions about which direction the Louisiana High School Athletic Association should go next.
Once the Baton Rouge area meeting ended, it was clear that the crowd of about 90 administrators and coaches got exactly what they came for — the chance to see incoming Executive Director Eddie Bonine in action.
Bonine’s remarks made on Thursday morning at the LHSAA office weren’t much different than what he told similar groups at four other Louisiana sites on Tuesday and Wednesday, but they made an impression.
“The thing I like is he communicates extremely well,” Woodlawn Athletic Director Elmo Fernandez said. “He comes across as a guy who will address the problems and won’t give it chance to mushroom like it did a couple of years ago.”
The Baton Rouge meeting designed to prepare member principals for next week’s annual LHSAA convention at the Crowne Plaza had the expected serious undertones.
There was a review of the agenda, which includes items that could widen the LHSAA’s current select/nonselect split championships for football to include baseball, softball and basketball. Two other proposals that would reunite the LHSAA schools in some form or fashion also are part of the agenda.
There was no real debate on those items, a contrast from meetings in Shreveport and Alexandria. There were comments from LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic and interim executive director Jimmy Anderson.
After a few opening remarks, Bonine said the timing for his transition into the job starting in early March is “horrible” based on the LHSAA’s public vs. private school issues and agenda. But he immediately went on the offensive. He talked about a planned Monday meeting with key legislators.
“So now we need to move this thing forward,” Bonine said. “I can’t speak to anything that’s happened before. I’m here to ask you. … I need some time. Things are moving fast. I want to get to where I know where the problems are. Where did this all start? How?
“I want you to understand that for me there’s a difference between pushing something forward and moving it through. If we put some thought into something, we can move it forward and reach a solution people can live with.
“We’re all in this for the same reasons. We’re the LHSAA, and we’re only as good as all of you out there who are adhering to the rules. You have a passion, and I have a passion to lead the state the same way.”
Bonnaffee told the group about the LHSAA’s mounting legal bills that have totaled about $750,000 over the past four years and noted the refinance of the LHSAA building this summer.
Bonnaffee and Anderson also asked the group to delay making changes to the LHSAA’s classification/make-up structure.
“This is not the interim executive director speaking, this is Jimmy Anderson,” Anderson said. “I think we need to give Mr. Bonine a chance to get his feet on the ground before we start dividing sports.
“People say it’s just rhetoric, but it’s not. We’re going to have some feedback on this. Sponsors have language in their contracts about this (and could drop sponsorship). Legislators are watching this.”
The feedback from administrators was positive too. One group crowded around Bonine in the foyer of the LHSAA building to express their concerns. Runnels Principal Greg Brandao was among those who said Bonine came across the same way he has in previous media reports.
“I thought it went great,” Central Principal David Prescott said. “I think we need to consider giving Mr. Bonine time. I was impressed by him. We need to give him a chance to lead us.”
Catholic High Athletic Director J.P. Kelly said he liked Bonine’s plan to approach the LHSAA’s issues.
“The way that Mr. Bonine said, ‘Let’s listen to everybody around the state and some patience moving forward’ ... I like that direction,” Kelly said. “I think the principals, athletic directors and coaches can also do that. Hopefully, we can try to find ways next week to meet and to socialize and to try and try to mend some fences.”
Zachary Principal Joe LeBlanc added, “I’m glad I came and heard what I heard. And I’m all for giving the man a chance. I’ve coached and been an administrator at both private and public schools. You’re heart and your mind tell you different things. This is tough.”
“I like the man,” Dutchtown Athletic Director Benny Saia said. “I think he’s sharp. I told him I’m praying for him because he’s got a big job.”