Rod Walker: Principals’ decision to split even further is a big blow to many New Orleans area schools _lowres

Advocate staff photo by BILL FEIG -- Norman Baker of Many High School presents his proposal for new splits to the membership at the LHSAA convention. His measure passed.

Perhaps LHSAA officials should have had a second line band waiting for the principals and school administrators in the Baton Rouge Crowne Plaza lobby at the conclusion of the association’s annual convention.

The LHSAA, at least as we know it, may have died Friday.

Let’s hope not.

But no doubt, the day’s key vote came as a big blow to several schools across the state, in particular some in the New Orleans area.

The controversial split playoff format, implemented for football in 2013, was expanded Friday to include boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball.

It would have gone into effect immediately, but an amendment was passed right before the final vote that pushed the implementation to July 1 — in other words, the 2016-17 school year.

What the vote means is that there will be 12 — yes, a dozen — state champions in those sports, in addition to the nine state champions Louisiana has been crowning in football.

Coaches in the area have talked for the past three years about hoping schools can come back together and play for one championship per classification.

But instead, schools now have split even more. And one principal wanted to amend the proposal to include ALL sports (wrestling, track, etc.), but his amendment didn’t go through the proper process and was thus ruled out of order. Don’t be surprised if those sports are added next time.

Friday’s vote was 182-120, which is right at 60 percent. Three years ago, the vote was 206-119 (63.4 percent), so the gap hasn’t closed much.

Eddie Bonine, in his first year as LHSAA executive director, was hoping he could unify the association. He’d still like to, but for now ...

“I’ve been given my marching orders, and I will continue to move forward with what was passed today with regards to the split,” he said.

School officials from Catholic schools in the area were noticeably disappointed by the vote. None would offer comments — except Rummel athletic director Phil Greco, who simply said, “I’m disappointed.”

Greco and other officials from Catholic schools held a closed-door meeting Thursday, but everyone who attended was mum about what was discussed.

Could they be considering breaking away from the LHSAA? And if so, who could really blame them?

Especially the Catholic League schools. Under the current playoff format, Catholic League schools are basically their own association anyway, playing each other in the regular season and then turning around and doing it all over again in the playoffs (adding a handful of teams in the mix).

Bonine didn’t want to speculate on what could happen with the 40 percent of schools that left the convention unhappy with the vote.

“Only time will tell with that,” he said. “I don’t want to speculate. I will handle those issues as they come up, if issues come up. I’m assuming I will have some meetings coming down the roads with different entities that may have some concerns.”

Count J.T. Curtis, longtime coach at John Curtis Christian School, among those with concerns about the ruling.

“It’s very disappointing, to say the least,” he said. “I just don’t think we gain anything when we split.”

Does Curtis think schools will withdraw from the association?

“I’m sure there will be talks about it,” he said. “That’s not the best thing, either, but what do you do?”

Not everyone left the convention unhappy.

Norman Booker, principal at Many, left pleased. He authored the split plan because he feels schools aren’t playing on a level playing field.

“The public schools don’t have the selection process that (select schools) have,” he said. “If a student lives in my town, I have to put him in school. The private school has the opportunity to take one of those (students) or not take one of those. That’s the biggest disparity.”

Until those issues are addressed, the LHSAA’s problems will linger, and the divide between select and nonselect schools will widen.

Six of 10 principals proved that Friday, agreeing with Booker.

“The majority of the principals realize there is an issue that needs to be deeply addressed,” Booker said.

Booker said he is in favor of “working with both sides and trying to get it equitable for both sides so that it’s good for everyone.”

Here’s hoping it’s not too late.