Most emotionally charged games feature a crucial turning point that decides the winner.
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s Friday vote on whether to expand its split playoffs beyond football also had a definitive momentum shift.
After Many High Principal Norman Booker III spoke on behalf of the first of his three proposals to widen the split — this one regarding baseball — Hahnville High Principal Ken Oertling stepped to the microphone.
Oertling’s somewhat-unorthodox plea to give incoming Executive Director Eddie Bonine time to develop solutions for the LHSAA’s public vs. private school issues drew applause during the general assembly meeting at the Crowne Plaza.
“I agree, just like Mr. Booker does, that many things have not been addressed in this association,” Oertling said. “Listen, me as a principal and a school have had just as many players allegedly being recruited as anybody else. In fact, I’ve currently reported an allegation of recruiting. I’m there. I’m with you.
“But I agree we should give (Bonine) an opportunity and the executive committee an opportunity to make changes and to propose changes. We won’t be fixing; we’ll be breaking the entire organization by splitting.”
From there, Booker’s baseball proposal failed by a 161-82 vote. Booker opted to withdraw the other proposals for softball and basketball. There wasn’t quite as much drama as you’d see associated with a game-winning 3-pointer, but Bonine and others recognized the significance.
“I’d had some good feedback,” Bonine said. “(Split proposals) had some merit, but we don’t need to split any further. And I think when (Oertling) got up and made that comment and you heard the applause, to me, that spoke volumes.”
During his speech to member principals before the vote, Bonine used symbolism, first wearing a plain jacket to note his outsider status as Executive Director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association looking into the LHSAA’s issues. Then he put on an LHSAA logo jacket to signify his new commitment to Louisiana while asking for time to develop solutions.
Bonine stressed rules compliance and told the principals he wants to form a “think tank” committee to develop solutions within 45 days of March 1, his first day on the job. Afterwards, Bonine said he expected the LHSAA to continue its current select/nonselect football playoff for at least one year before changes could be implemented.
“I appreciate the confidence of the principals to allow myself and the committee to sit down and prepare proposals that we can all live with and buy into,” Bonine said. “And when we bring it back, we’re not doing this every year. It doesn’t mean there won’t be some changes down the road. This is something we can give a chance to mature.”
Friday’s meeting was the fourth straight year of split-related tension, including 2013, when public school principals led the charge to split the LHSAA’s football championships into separate divisions for select (private, full magnet, lab and some charter schools) and nonselect (public) schools.
Two other proposals on the agenda designed to address the split were tabled for one year.
The vote of confidence for Bonine and several votes by principals to deny pay raises for some contest officials and also to cut pay for baseball/softball officials involved in rainout situations were notable.
Interim Executive Director Jimmy Anderson thanked principals for their vote of confidence as they gathered their belongings to leave.
“We’re all family. Sometimes it’s a dysfunctional one, but it’s important that we stay together,” Anderson said.
Booker told reporters that he would love to serve on Bonine’s committee and added, “I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had passed, and I wouldn’t have been surprised if it had failed. I know I was kind of outnumbered on the ability to spread the word.
“But I think moreso that anything that our principals voted in support of our new director. They are going to give him full support, at least for a year, and I’m willing to do that.”
Several Baton Rouge area principals offered similar sentiments.
“I’m a product of the LHSAA,” Zachary Principal Joe Leblanc said. “I played and coached in the LHSAA. I’d like to see things stay together. I definitely think it’s good to give Mr. Bonine a chance to come up with some solutions.”
Added Central Principal David Prescott: “It was important for (Booker’s proposal) to come up for a vote, so we could go on the record about it. A number of us sitting on that side of the room are former coaches. Whenever you take a job as a coach, you ask for time to build a program. It’s the same with Mr. Bonine. I’m impressed by him, and I think he’ll come up with solutions, but we have to give him time.”
Doyle Principal Tommy Hodges is an advocate for the split and also a member of the executive committee. Hodges said he did not see Friday’s vote against Booker’s proposal as a negative.
“I was in favor of the split, however, the association voted to give (Bonine) a chance to see what he can do,” Hodges said. “Some of the issues we’ve had in the past I don’t think can be solved by anything other than a split. But we’re going to give (Bonine) that opportunity.
“And if people don’t think those problems are solved, (split) proposals will come up again.”