Cue the music from a classic TV show from the 1960s or ’70s.
“Good morning, Mr. Bonine. Your mission, which you have chosen to accept, is one that won’t require manual labor. But it does call for some serious heavy lifting. Things may get emotional and heated. Surrender should never be an option, but compromise must be. Good luck.”
Is the state of affairs for the Louisiana High School Athletic Association really like a “Mission Impossible” script? Or is this the bridge to a transition that makes the LHSAA what it should be — an organization that does its best for its student-athletes and coaches?
That is the challenge for Eddie Bonine, new executive director of the LHSAA. He was introduced during a news conference Saturday morning at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
The introduction came hours before the final day of the Allstate Sugar Bowl/LHSAA Prep Classic football championships. It’s Louisiana’s marquee event and also is the symbol for much of the LHSAA’s issues.
Member principals voted to split the football championships into divisions for select and nonselect schools almost two years ago. The plan separated the LHSAA’s private schools (select) from the public schools (nonselect) for the playoffs.
As the January convention approaches, there are proposals to reunite schools in some fashion. There also are proposals to widen the split to include three other sports: baseball, basketball and softball.
Which way do you go? Expect Bonine to come in with some fresh ideas and a sorely needed new perspective. As executive director of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association for eight years, he has seen it before.
Bonine hasn’t been afraid to go toe-to-toe with schools that don’t follow rules. He has taken a hard-line stance against some high-powered private schools. During Saturday’s news conference, Bonine corrected a popular misconception: that he kicked a private school out of the NIAA. What Bonine said he had was a conversation with a school about playing a national schedule at the behest of the NIAA, which is a state entity.
During his tenure in Nevada, Bonine has dealt with charter schools, home-schooling, schools within schools and virtual schools. He’s an educator, a former school administrator and a former professional baseball player and coach.
But he hasn’t dealt with Louisiana. How Bonine handles the next six to eight weeks will be crucial. Bonine’s wife, Christine, is a Louisiana native and a Mount Carmel Academy graduate. Those family ties played a role in the family’s decision to come to Louisiana.
During the news conference, he came across as confident, polished and knowledgeable.
Bonine will no doubt have to be a quick study. He’s excited about traveling across the state to meet principals, to see the schools and the places where they are located.
Will he have enough time to understand all the nuances that make Louisiana what it is? Probably not.
Talking and listening to all sides involved will be crucial. He made it clear that he gets a vehicle allowance and he plans to use it to talk to as many people as possible.
When I say he needs to talk to all sides, I don’t just mean the public schools and the private schools and their administrators. Talk to coaches. Talk to student-athletes.
Can he really be expected to repair some of these issues by the end of January? Not really, but perhaps some key bridges can be built. Bonine noted this job is also about doing maintenance.
“I’m a fixer,” he said. “That’s what I do.”