Updated, 8:45 p.m.:
This time, Many High School Principal Norman Booker followed through — and so did a majority of member principals.
A year ago, Booker stepped back from his proposal to expand the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s select/nonselect championship split to give then-newly-hired LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine the chance to work toward a compromise.
Though Bonine asked for more time to find common ground, Booker’s proposal to split boys basketball, girls basketball, baseball and softball was approved by a 182-120 margin Friday.
“There is no real way to make things absolutely fair, but this is the closest thing this association has come up with in 20 years to get it right,” Booker said afterward. “So to expand it to other sports was the best thing we could offer.”
The vote comes three years after member principals approved separate football championships for its nonselect (traditional public) schools and its select schools, a group that includes private, magnet, some charter and laboratory schools.
Expansion of the split championships and a landslide vote of 258-23 to approve previously implemented pay raises for officials in various sports were big-ticket items as the LHSAA closed its annual convention with a general assembly vote.
It was a stark contrast to 2013, when some principals cheered after split football championships were approved. The mood at the Crowne Plaza was more solemn after several private-school principals argued against adding to the split. Public-school principals argued for it.
Booker insisted that his intent is not to tear the association apart with his proposal, which he amended to go into effect during the 2016-17 school year.
“We hope everyone can leave this room today and this summer work together to make it appeasable as possible to both sides so we can still be one strong organization,” Booker said. “I’m definitely not about tearing the association apart. I think it’s a great association. It just has some issues that are very difficult to address and this is just a small piece of it today.”
The breakdown for the newest split calls for seven nonselect classes and five select divisions for boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball.
Football teams will continue to play in five nonselect divisions and four select divisions. Teams in all sports will continue to play together in the regular season before heading to separate postseasons.
Bonine pledged to move forward with what the membership approved.
“Everybody’s cards were on the table today,” Bonine said. “The membership has voted, and it’s a principals association. They have given direction to me and (it’s) the direction we will go to continue to move forward to participate in the competitive format that has been approved.”
Bonine said he had in some measure “failed” to develop the compromise that a portion of the membership sought.
Questions about how the plan will be implemented to work within the framework of championship venues remain. Potential loss of major sponsorships — such as the LHSAA’s title sponsor, the Allstate Sugar Bowl — and possible legislative intervention also were discussed during Bonine’s news conference after the vote.
Rumors that the Sugar Bowl had pulled its sponsorship by Friday night were untrue.
“We understood this was a possibility when we went into the deal, so we went into it with our eyes wide open,” said Paul Hoolahan, CEO of the Sugar Bowl. “But we don’t know all of the ins and outs of it. We’re committed to the LHSAA, but we want to get more information as this plays out.”
Hoolahan and Bonine acknowledged that language with the contract gives the Sugar Bowl the option to pull out of the sponsorship based on major changes within the LHSAA.
Bonine referenced a recent split vote in New Jersey that was rescinded by state leaders during remarks to the general assembly.
“My concern at this particular point is, ‘Are we going to continue to this without some other form of intervention?’ I’ll handle those issues as they come,” he said. “I’m assuming I’m going to have some meetings coming down the road with different entities that might have concerns with what transpired today. My focus now is I’ve been given my marching orders.”
Questions also remain about where some schools will fall in the select/nonselect groups thanks to another proposal. Principals rescinded a bylaw that gave schools the ability to draw from within an entire parish. The change puts schools back into traditional attendance zones. Since schools with magnet programs draw students from beyond a traditional attendance zone, they will be deemed select.
Two Baton Rouge schools, Scotlandville and McKinley, are part of this group. So is C.E. Byrd of Shreveport and likely others.
The possibility of adding all sports to the split also looms. Port Barre High School Principal Timothy Villemarette’s attempt to amend Booker’s proposal to split all sports was ruled out of order. Parliamentarian Brian LeJeune told the group that the LHSAA’s constitution requires executive committee approval proposals to add divisions in any sport.
“I think that depends on who you talk to,” Bonine said. “Again, (more than 60 percent) of the vote today wants to move forward. Their patience has worn thin or has completely worn out in regard to some of things that can happen with select schools.”