Change on the way at LHSAA _lowres

Advocate staff photo by MATTHEW HINTON-- LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson discusses the select/nonselect playoffs with coaches a few days before last year's state championship games.

As he faced reporters primed for interviews after the Louisiana High School Athletic Association completed its annual summer meeting Friday, Vic Bonnaffee revisited one point several times.

“I would just like to express to you all don’t miss the October meeting, OK?” Bonnaffee said. “There’s going to be a lot of things that will probably transpire between now and that time.”

With those words, the Central Catholic-Morgan City principal unofficially started his tenure as LHSAA president.

In less than 30 hours the LHSAA’s top governing committee addressed the enactment of a state law requiring third-party arbitration for eligibility cases, made the biggest position statement to its membership in decades by coming out against any additional split of the organization and saw a change in leadership.

From the onset, the LHSAA’s conflicts between its public and private schools took center stage.

The LHSAA’s School Relations Committee made some recommendations designed at easing the conflict between public and private school factions, including requiring an eligibility, etc., audit of team champions.

However, Thursday’s most significant recommendation was to delay the LHSAA’s two-year classification process until after its January convention when proposals to split the association into select/nonselect championships for more than just football are expected.

That change led to the decision to push the next executive committee meeting from September to October.

As the committee met Thursday in executive session, Ouachita Principal Todd Guice informed committee members he was stepping down as president and would take on the past-president’s role.

Another Monroe principal, West Ouachita’s Mickey Merritt, was elected to take Bonnaffee’s spot as vice president on Friday, a day in which the committee had three executive sessions. The last session dealt with news that Gov. Bobby Jindal signed SB 633, thus making third-party arbitration into law.

“I have to show my utmost respect for Mr. Guice,” Bonnaffee said. “I know we had a lot of executive sessions today. And there was a lot of ‘Come to Jesus (moments)’ that we did. I think that shows in the statement that we made at the end to comply with arbitration and the statement that we made supporting no further split.”

Bonnaffee spoke of the process needed to educate the membership about the ramifications of more split championships and to set up an arbitration plan. Sen. Dan Claitor of Baton Rouge, the author of the third-party arbitration law, said he would like to see something in place sooner to help students like Episcopal’s Clement Munbungirwa, who seeks a year of eligibility as a 19-year-old. But Claitor said he also understands the need for a transition.

“I’d like to see something in place sooner,” Claitor said. “At the same time, I know this represents a major change for the LHSAA, and they will need some time to prepare. I think it can be a good thing for both the LHSAA and students who come from lower-income homes.”

Questions about the cost of arbitration have been raised, but Claitor said he is hopeful the LHSAA can secure arbitrators willing to work for free or at a reduced fee.

LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson nixed talk of arbitration costs, and Bonnaffee said he doesn’t see a decision to implement an arbitration plan before the October meeting.

“As a process person our process says come together in October and be able to review and discuss and make a decision. Not to get emotional and make a decision beforehand or to overact and not have a clear direction,” Bonnaffee said.

Bonnaffee cited “process” as the LHSAA’s means to an end to resolve its split-related conflicts.

“Part of the process is instruction,” Bonnaffee said. “The second part is coming back and allowing people to give their feedback. The final thing is to try and pull it together and get a consensus.

“I don’t think we’ll ever have everybody in the LHSAA totally supporting what we’re doing. But my goal would be to have everybody in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to be able to live with what we’re doing and support each other.”

Henderson noted, “I think we all have our direction now.”