Lobbyist Paul Rainwater and state Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, have emerged as unlikely key players in the LHSAA saga that began after a January vote to expand the select/nonselect championship split.
They are cast on opposite sides of the issue.
Rainwater put together the structure for a “sports cooperative” that is a possible alternative for the LHSAA’s select schools, a group dominated by private schools.
Talbot admits his approach is unorthodox. His House Bill 863, which cleared the House Education Committee last week, would prohibit schools receiving public funds from belonging to an athletic association that divides its championships along select/nonselect boundaries. He hopes to save the LHSAA as a united entity.
They have common bonds. Rainwater and Talbot are comfortable in the political arena and are former LHSAA athletes.
Rainwater sees the LHSAA’s problems as being an issue of governance, saying the ability of a simple majority to make major changes to its structure has brought about instability. Rainwater’s proposed framework for another group would require a two-thirds vote to get major changes on the agenda and to approve them. Talbot’s bill is an attempt to bring about change through outside governance.
“There were a couple of things that happened,” Rainwater said. “I know folks at U-High and have friends who have children there. They’re concerned about the direction this is going after the vote. They asked if I would be willing to meet with some of the coaches and principals.
“The second thing was, my brother called last fall and said, ‘The DeQuincy Tigers are in the playoffs.’ And I said, ‘We’re 3-7. … How did we get in the playoffs?’ So I did my own research on it. I remembered the (football split). I didn’t think much of it, other than I thought it was the wrong decision.”
Talbot also remembers the LHSAA’s 2013 vote to split its football championships and at the time thought the split could solve a football issue.
“You’ll notice the LHSAA is not mentioned in my bill,” Talbot said. “It’s about the schools, which is where the vote to split came from. When you start expanding to other sports and consider a full split, I couldn’t sit by. I’m not for state governance or oversight. I think the LHSAA needs to be given a chance to do its job.”
Both men are former linebackers — Rainwater at DeQuincy in the 1970s and Talbot at St. Martin’s in the 1980s. Both said their athletic experiences helped shape them.
“If the conversations are just about making kids feel good about themselves, we’re not teaching them anything about life,” Rainwater said. “I went 10-40 (in football) my freshman through my senior year. I don’t think that harmed me. I think it taught me a lot about life.”
Rainwater went on to become a colonel in the Louisiana National Guard and led evacuations for Hurricanes Katrina, Rita, Ike and Gustav. He also has been deployed to Iraq and Afghanistan. In addition to serving as a chief of staff for Gov. Bobby Jindal, Rainwater also was a chief of operations for former Sen. Mary Landrieu.
Talbot is a Jefferson Parish businessman. Though most view HB 863 as a way to impose the will of select schools on the LHSAA, Talbot said there is more to the story.
A football playoff game at Oak Grove High in northern Louisiana made an impression on Talbot when he was a student at St. Martin’s. Fast-forward to 2016: His wife is from Oak Grove, and his brother-in-law is the superintendent of West Carroll Parish schools.
“I believe in students experiencing competition against all kinds of schools,” he said. “I still remember that trip to Oak Grove as a player, not knowing my future wife would be from there.”
Talbot said he believes the recruiting issues noted in last week’s House committee hearing are moot points, adding, “That’s for the LHSAA to address with rules and enforcement.”
He also questions complaints about public schools being unable to compete with private schools, noting that 12 of LSU’s 17 in-state signees in the 2016 recruiting class hail from public schools.
Rainwater said his job is complete unless schools want to start a new association. He tells everyone, “I already have a job … a very good one” but has offered to be a volunteer executive director for the new group. Rainwater said he would not be part of day-to-day operations.
Talbot said HB 863 likely will be up for debate in another week. It would have to pass the House, the Senate Education Committee and the Senate to become law.
“I didn’t propose this to sit on it,” Talbot said. “The plan is to move it forward.”