Dutchtown Griffins lose heartbreaker to Zachary Broncos 44-34 _lowres

Advocate staff photo by HILARY SCHEINUK -- Dutchtown football coach Benny Saia

LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine told reporters his phone would “blow up” after a news conference Friday morning — and for good reason.

Bonine announced that a new legal opinion says the organization violated its constitution when it approved split football championships in 2013.

The fact the LHSAA’s traditional public nonselect schools and select schools (private, full magnet, most charter and laboratory schools) likely would again play together in five classes was met with surprise by most.

“All I can say is wow,” Catholic High Athletic Director J.P. Kelly said. “That’s not something that was on anybody’s radar I don’t believe.

“Hopefully, this gives all the schools a chance to come together and work on finding a compromise that satisfies as many people as possible.”

The news conference was carried live on the Internet and member schools were given a link to follow the proceedings. All the news release before the news conference said was there would be a major announcement regarding the upcoming LHSAA convention set for Jan. 27-29 at the Crowne Plaza.

Some principals and coaches took the time to log on to the live stream, but many others did not and found out later through other sources.

“I had no idea about any of that,” East Ascension Principal Traci McCorkle said. “But if it’s true that the split violated the constitution, there’s no choice but to go back and fix it. If the split is what people want, then go about it the proper way.”

When the split was passed in 2013, private schools argued it violated the LHSAA’s constitution, which says schools should be divided into five classes for football. Under then-LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson, a constitution law study was commissioned.

Once the $10,000 study was received, member schools were told having a split football playoffs bylaw that disagreed with the LHSAA constitution was not an problem because they were separate parts of the LHSAA’s handbook. For the past three years the LHSAA has awarded nine state football titles — five for nonselect and four for select.

The latest opinion from new LHSAA attorney Mark Boyer is based on a different constitution item which says any proposal that changes the classification of schools in two or more classes must be approved by the LHSAA’s executive committee first, something that did not happen in 2013.

Bonine said despite the constitutional revelation, there are no planned changes to the 36-item convention agenda, which includes an LHSAA proposal to divide schools based on metro or rural status.

Some remain skeptics.

“You know, I’m tired of this,” Dutchtown High football coach Benny Saia said. “This has been going on for five or six years. There are too many questions about the rural-metro thing and who should play where.

“I’d rather it go back to the way it was and just play in five classes than do that. I was at the funeral for Boots Garland (longtime track coach) and someone there said, ‘(The LHSAA) found a way to fix it to get what they want it.’ So something like this doesn’t really surprise me.”

Bonine said the timing of the announcement was “horrible” and added that the issue was found during a check of this year’s agenda by a group that included Boyer, LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic, Vice President Mike Oakley of Iowa and Parliamentarian Brian Lejeune, superintendent of Jefferson Davis Parish public schools.

“It’s a lot to wrap your brain around, especially after three years,” Episcopal Athletic Director Myra Mansur said. “Many of us thought it (split) violated the constitution. I never saw it like this.

“What happens now? I’ve got no idea. But I do admire Mr. Bonine for bringing this to light and making it public.”

Others, including Zachary Principal Joe LeBlanc and Parkview Baptist Athletic Director Kenny Guillot, said they like the idea returning to the traditional five-class set-up.

McKinley Principal Herman Brister Jr. took a more philosophical approach.

“We get caught up in what some schools have compared to what we have,” Brister said. “I’m a former coach, and I know I’ve done it. The more I look at it, I can’t fault with schools that choose to invest in their programs, whether they’re public or private.

“We all need to invest more in our schools and programs and not worry so much about who’s got what and who’s winning what. A wise man once told me that when adults bicker, children lose. We need to get back to doing what’s best for kids.”