Rep. Kirk Talbot, R-River Ridge, got the chance to explain that his motivation for House Bill 863 is not to terminate the 97-year-old LHSAA.
However, the biggest news to come out of the Legislature’s House education committee meeting Wednesday was that the Talbot-sponsored item passed by a 7-5 margin and moves on for debate on the House floor.
It was the first step for HB863, aimed at forcing LHSAA schools away from the current select/nonselect sports split that started with football playoffs in 2013 and is set to expand to the postseasons of basketball, baseball and softball in 2016-17.
“I wish I wasn’t here,” Talbot said. “My goal is not to bring an end to the LHSAA; I want to try and save it. If I wanted to end it, I’d be talking to the people who want to start a new association.”
Talbot’s bill would prohibit public and private schools that receive public funds from belonging to an athletic organization that splits its playoffs into separate divisions for select (private, most charter, magnet, laboratory schools) and nonselect (traditional public schools).
It was amended to include an “organization that discriminates on the basis of race, sex or religion” during the meeting. A lengthy debate featured John Curtis football coach J.T. Curtis, Jesuit Principal Rev. Anthony McGinn, Evangel Christian co-founder Denny Duron and Metairie Park Country Day basketball coach/athletic director Mike McGuire.
Sen. John Milkovich, D-Shreveport, and LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine also addressed the group.
Voting for advancing the legislation (7): Chairman Nancy Landry, R-Lafayette, and Reps. Beryl Amedee, R-Houma, Rick Edmonds, R-Baton Rouge, Stephanie Hilferty, R-Metairie, Walt Leger III, D-New Orleans, Chris Broadwater, R-Hammond, and Reid Falconer, R-Mandeville.
Voting AGAINST HB863 (5): Reps. Joe Bouie, D-New Orleans, Jeff Hall, D-Alexandria, Ed Price, D-Gonzales, Gene Reynolds, D-Minden, and Patricia Smith, D-Baton Rouge.
McGuire and others said they have attended meetings concerning the possible formation of a “sports cooperative” that would be an alternative to the LHSAA. All those who spoke stated that their desire is to remain part of a united LHSAA.
Price, Smith and Reynolds questioned the wisdom of trying to dictate policy to the LHSAA, which is a private entity that schools choose to join. The 182-120 January vote by LHSAA member principals to expand the split to boys/girls basketball, baseball and softball was referenced several times.
Issues that led to the split, notably recruiting by private schools, also were mentioned. The fact both select and nonselect schools have been punished for recruiting violations in the past was noted along with the fact some select schools voted for the split and nonselect schools voted against it.
The coaches/administrators see the Legislature as a last hope. McGuire said, though, 10 of the 14 schools that won boys/girls basketball championships earlier this month were public schools, he sees the split growing.
“We see the train coming … It’s going to split all sports,” McGuire said.
Milkovich told the group the LHSAA was on the verge of a total “fracture” and told the committee they have the chance to do something about it.
Curtis told the group that because the select schools are in the minority, they are unable to muster enough votes to change the current course of the LHSAA.
“We have no recourse,” Curtis said. “We need your help.”
Bonine told the group he attended the meeting for “informational purposes” in order to report to the LHSAA’s executive committee. He told the House committee that the LHSAA executive committee meets next month.
“Let’s give them something to talk about,” Talbot said.
Mark Ballard contributed to this story