There were smiles all around as the Louisiana High School Athletic Association finally got to introduce its new executive director, Eddie Bonine.
The fact that Bonine, executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association for eight years, had been hired was not a secret. That was confirmed earlier in the week.
But Saturday’s news conference before the final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic framed the kickoff of a new era for Louisiana’s governing body for high school sports in a metaphoric way.
“I think the press has already asked the question, ‘Why an outsider?’ ” LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic said. “For 20 years, I’ve been hearing discussion internally with all kinds of people about what are some of the solutions to work with the LHSAA. We’ve got brilliant people, intelligent people and very qualified people.
“But at this point in my life when I had to cast a vote, I felt it was very important to bring somebody in who had national exposure, an individual who had various experiences in leadership and administration … an individual who would be able to objectively look at the issues of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and be able to able to take an approach that is effective and collaborative — a fresh outlook.”
Bonine is the first LHSAA leader to come from another state. His official first day of work for the LHSAA won’t be determined until the NIAA’s Board of Control, a group like the LHSAA’s executive committee, meets Thursday in Reno.
Bonnaffee said interim executive director Jimmy Anderson will continue to serve until Bonine can fully take the reins. But there are plans for Bonine to team with Anderson and Bonnaffee to attend area meetings around the state in January.
Those area meetings set the stage for a crucial LHSAA convention vote Jan. 30. The agenda includes proposals that could reunite the state’s select and nonselect schools for football, possibly healing the rift between its public and private schools. There also are proposals to widen the split for football to baseball, softball and basketball.
Bonine credited search committee chairman Todd Guice of Ouachita Parish High for his work in the hiring process.
“After talking with Todd more than one time, I thought I wanted to be part of (the LHSAA),” Bonine said. “I knew I wanted to come to Louisiana for the interview process and be very prepared, not so much on the history of the LHSAA, but coming in prepared with the leadership and experience to lead this association.
“There’s a quote from Mr. Bonnaffee in one of the articles that was sent to me that talks about this being an historical time for the LHSAA. Gosh, I’ve been chosen to help lead that. How exciting for me and for the staff to do that. I’m taking that very, very serious.”
Bonine vowed to put student-athletes at the top of his list of priorities.
“My job is a career choice,” he said. “All of us in this room are here for the same reason, and that’s to do what’s best for the student participants across this state. Every one of them, to ensure they’re having the best experience possible. As your executive director, it’s my job to protect the integrity of high school participation in your state … now our state.”
The scope of the job in Louisiana was not lost on Bonine, who noted that in Nevada there are 110 schools, compared with 388 in Louisiana.
“I know there’s a lot more here than what I’m used to,” he said. “But we’ll find a way. We’ll have an open door of communication.”
Bonine talked about his experience, which includes dealing with public schools, private schools, charter schools, home-schooling and other variations. He called reports that he tried to kick a private school out of the NIAA incorrect, noting that the Nevada association was a state-run entity.
“What I had was a discussion about the school playing a national schedule if they wanted to,” he said.
Bonnaffee and Bonine both talked about working to regain the trust of member schools and coaches, noting that it can’t happen overnight. He sees the first 90 days as crucial moving forward.
“A lot of people are builders,” Bonine said. “This is maintenance. Not a lot of people like to do that, but I do.”