New Louisiana High School Athletic Association Eddie Bonine wrapped his six stops in three days tour across the state optimistic Thursday.
Bonine, who was named the LHSAA’s director in December, left a good first impression on the principals, coaches and athletic directors who attended the New Orleans area district meeting.
“I left here with a little more hope about where we are headed,” said Jesuit Athletic Director David Moreau. “I’ve been coming to these meetings for year,s and this is the first time I have left here feeling like people are on the same page.”
Thursday’s meeting, just like the previous five held in Shreveport, Monroe, Alexandria, Lafayette and Baton Rouge, was to prepare member principals for next week’s annual LHSAA convention in Baton Rouge.
“For the most part, the conversation has been positive,” Bonine said.
There were over 100 people in attendance for the final stop, a number that required a wall partition to be removed in the meeting room to allow for additional seating.
The biggest concern, of course, is what direction the LHSAA is headed as far the split playoff format between select and nonselect schools that has been in place for the past two years in football.
Among the proposals up for a vote at next week’s convention are some that could further the division even more, including using a split format in basketball, baseball and softball.
Another proposal, one that would help bring the association back together, would add a Class 6A to the current classification system and allow teams in lower classifications to play up.
Count St. Charles coach Frank Monica among those who supported a move to a sixth class.
“It brings everybody back together,” Monica said. “It may not be kosher to everybody in it, but when you look at it there aren’t any flaws in it.”
The Louisiana High School Football Coaches Association also has a motion in place that would keep the split, but have four playoff classes for nonselect schools and three for select schools. This would reduce the number of state championships from nine to seven.
Franklinton coach Shane Smith, president of the LHSFCA, said a majority of coaches were in favor of that proposal, according to a survey taken last summer.
Either of those proposals could be voted in next week.
Bonine, who doesn’t officially begin his duties until March because of his obligations as director in Nevada, would like to see principals wait before making a decision.
“I think for the most part it sounds like the vote would be to just ‘freeze frame’ and give me some time to figure it out,” he said. “And that puts the pressure on me to figure it out. And that’s why I’m here. I’ll get it figured it out. But I can’t do it if I have to just go with what is passed.”
Bonine also repeated a phrase that he has said often the past three days.
“I’m not going to kick the can down the road,” he said. “Part of my compensation package is I got a car. And I’m going to wear it out going around to see how to fix it.”
John Curtis football coach J.T. Curtis would like to see the split format go away but is willing to keep it for another year if it means the association is showing progress in moving in the direction of a unified association.
Those in attendance, many who were meeting Bonine for the first time, said the new executive director could get them there.
“You can tell by listening to him he is very passionate,” said Rummel Athletic Director Phil Greco. “I think he is the type of guy who will show the leadership the organization needs. He is going to make an honest decision and stick by his guns. I really like that.
“He has to get to know the lay of the land. He seems like he is going to listen and make decisions and make them based on the overall good of the association.”
“He seems fair and understands the business,” said Wayne Reese, McDonogh 35 football coach.
Reese, like most of the coaches and leaders in attendance Thursday, would like to see all of the school’s competing together.
Greco is one of those as well.
“I am hoping that (issues) can be resolved,” Greco said. “With his leadership and his direction, I think we can get to that in the future.”
Nick Saltaformaggio, football coach at Hahnville, has been an avid supporter of everyone playing together.
“I’m a traditionalist,” Saltaformaggio said. “The idea of being a champion is to beat the best teams around. Now you have teams that to duck people. What good does that do? It’s an era where everybody gets a trophy. He (Bonine) seems like he wants to do the right things for our organization and the state of Louisiana, and that’s what we need.”
But for now, Bonine will have to wait and see what the principals vote on next week.
“If they decide to move forward, then I have a plan to kind of move forward with that,” he said. “If they decide to wait and give me a chance to figure this out and put a new set of eyes on it, I will hit it running.”