LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine is still relatively new on the job. But the former head of the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association has seen and been involved in a lot since taking over Louisiana’s top high school sports job in March.
Here is a look at Bonine’s views on what he’s seen so far, what issues loom on the horizon and what his hopes for the future include.
How does it feel now, being nearly 150 days into your new role? You observed the convention, got to go through some championship events, a coaches clinic and juggle a lot of issues. Do you feel like you have a good feel for things?
“I do. I think that the LHSCA (Louisiana High School Coaches Association) and the LHSAA and all the entities are very well organized. And I think what it boils down to is taking the reigns and guiding things in the direction that everybody wants to go.
“That’s been the easy part. The officials (threatened strike, pay raises, etc.) was something that was on my radar, but it wound up not being where I thought it was. And it ate me up for about 18 or 19 days. I spent a lot of time working on that because I wanted to make sure I got it. Got it to Eddie may not be got it right for everybody. But I stated I did not want to go into this conference, the coaches conference, with that officials issue being the targeted conversation, and we accomplished that.”
What’s next for you regarding the pay-raise proposal ratified by the LHSAA executive committee and the Louisiana High School Officials Association?
“Now it’s my charge to talk to as many principals as possible along with the superintendents in the state to let them know the (officials’) raise piece needs to be there, and that there’s more to it. I’ve talked to coaches who say they don’t have a problem with the officials getting raises. The question they have is about the training for officials and their accountability. With the implementation of MaxPreps (for statistics and other things) this fall, I believe we’re going to have the opportunity to do some formal assessments that haven’t been done previously.
“Win or lose, we want reports. The officials have accepted that graciously. If an official shows up late, don’t pay him; if he’s not dressed appropriately, don’t pay him. If there’s unprofessionalism, it needs to be reported. We’re not going to accept things that don’t meet high standards. It’s a four-year agreement and I truly believe the principals will pass (it) and we’ll get that uncertainty behind us.”
What do you see happening this fall? What are the key issues? Is it select/nonselect schools? Rules compliance? Or something else?
“I’ll just keep evaluating what I’m charged to do as the executive director and work with the staff as specific situations come up. I had no intention of having to deal with anything about officials and you see what happened. Eligibility and compliance issues are big. That involves working on transfers and making ruling.
“Also managing the executive committee is a priority. I think we’re blessed with great leadership with Mr. (Vic) Bonnaffee (President of Central Catholic and Mike Oakley (Vice President of Iowa). The thing we’ve got to do as a group is get the trust back from the legislature, from the principals and from the coaches — and that means something different with each group. I’m talking to state school boards and superintendents. I’m one guy who’s coming in from the outside. They need to hear me tell them this is the right thing for us to do at this point. Kids are kids, school districts are school districts and to do the right thing across the board has to be front and center.
“The relationship with the legislature. ... We’ll only see that when the session rolls back around. But I think we left on a positive, high note in the spring. There’s a stat quoted that 21 percent of our principals were new this past year. One individual spoke about their parish and said there are six high schools, and there will be three new principals along with a brand new superintendent. It’s my job to find out where those areas are, introduce myself and let them know we have somebody in charge of the LHSAA who knows what he’s doing and has a supportive executive committee. Please follow what we’re doing.”
What are differences here as opposed to working in Nevada?
“I’ve already worked more Sundays here than I ever have in a my life. You know the reputation Nevada has … but we didn’t work on Sundays. Coaches couldn’t be with kids or get together to go over Xs and Os. And I come to the very faith-based state of Louisiana and Sundays aren’t sacred. If you’re Catholic, you’d better go to Saturday night mass or early Sunday because you might be meeting or working. Now I say that tongue-in-cheek.
“We’re in a new era at the LHSAA now. All the work and time I put in now should help ensure that in the future there will be more monitoring than change. This is a time of change.”
Are there any changes not discussed that you’d like to implement, such as changes to the current sports seasons?
I’m not going to take that on. Now I did ask this question: If the majority of schools start on Aug. 10, what is the time frame? We wait to play games. I come from a state where we did play games a couple of weeks earlier, and we did finish earlier. That’s another philosophy and another place.
“The Saints and SMG have been great about working with us on using the (Mercedes-Benz) Superdome for the finals. This year we’ve got three conference championships in other places and a Saints game here the same weekend as the select finals. But again, they’re working with this. I have no plans to step on tradition. I’m not going to go look for trouble.”
What about transfer students? How will you handle it?
“Every situation we have will be handled on a per-case basis. There are outside influences out there. When you talk about kids going to (Las Vegas-based) Findlay Prep or (Florida-based) IMG Academy or some other group, it’s out there. To me, Findlay Prep is an prime example of not getting the full high school experience. They’re missing out the proms and all the things that go with those high school years. I’m not living in “Happy Days” with the letter jackets and all that. But I still say they’re missing out. They only have eight semesters or 720 days.
“The rules are very specific regarding transfers in the LHSAA handbook, but there’s one rule I look at that’s not in the book. You can cross every ‘t’ and dot every ‘i’, but if it doesn’t pass the smell test, we’re going to take a good look at it. We’re going to send a compliance officer to make sure things are in order. If it doesn’t look right or smell right, we’ll look at every angle.”