Louisiana High School Officials Association President Paul LaRosa and LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine shared a hug behind closed doors.
There was a handshake and then smiles in front of the cameras.
Most importantly, the duo announced that their groups had reached a tentative agreement designed to prevent a fall strike by the state’s high school officials during an LHSOA executive meeting that lasted more than four hours Sunday afternoon.
Bonine and LaRosa told the media they couldn’t reveal details of the agreement and said there were some “mechanical things” and “set pieces” to iron out.
“A lot of conversation about a lot of things we had to get on the table and talk about,” LaRosa said. “We have a tentative agreement. We’re going to go back to our officials and let them know we’re very excited and promote the registration of football officials and volleyball officials to get ready for the season. At this point, we can’t give you any more details on what has been agreed to.”
The expressions of Bonine and LaRosa said it all: There was a lack of tension and perhaps a sigh of relief after weeks of tension.
The LHSOA had taken a hard-line stance by insisting on signed contracts and pay raises for officials in seven sports. The sides reached an impasse in negotiations June 23, and the battle played out in the media in the days before Sunday’s meeting at the Crowne Plaza in Baton Rouge, escalating fears of a strike.
LaRosa said one crucial step will be an LHSOA membership meeting set for Wednesday at Delgado Community College. Bonine said he would be contacting members of the LHSAA’s executive committee and other member principals in the days ahead.
“It’s been a long afternoon … good dialogue, good conversation,” Bonine said. “It was some good air-cleaning, you’d say, and I think at this point we’re ready to move forward and try to get it resolved and do what we want to do, which is make the situation good for kids.”
The closed-door meeting gave both sides a chance to discuss issues and frustrations. Several members of the LHSAA’s executive committee, including President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic, also took part in the meeting, which began before its scheduled 1 p.m. time. LHSOA leaders from across the state also were there, along with Louisiana High School Coaches Association President Shane Smith.
“All along, I think what both sides were hoping for was to create a forum where we could sit down and talk about and see what was on each other’s minds,” LaRosa said. “I think what really surfaced today from both sides early on was we’ve got to get something done for the kids so they can play ball.
“That was mentioned so many times in the discussions. Every time things got sort of tough, it was, ‘OK, let’s remind ourselves what we’re trying to do here.’ There was give and take and compromise and ‘Let’s not leave until we can make something happen.’ ”
LaRosa said the meeting gave LHSOA leadership a chance to hear some things that it hadn’t heard from the LHSAA. LaRosa said input from the principals was crucial to getting an agreement hammered out. Brusly’s Walt Lemoine, Ruston’s Ricky Durrett and St. Thomas More’s Richard Lavergne were other principals involved in the process. Also there was the LHSAA’s coordinator of officials, Assistant Executive Director Keith Alexander.
“I think (participation of executive committee principals) was the most important element for us,” LaRosa said. “The people we know who are behind the scenes and in a position to make in many cases the final decisions ... they were represented today, and they were able to tell us things that were concerns of theirs — things we hadn’t heard before.”
Added Bonine: “I’m leaving here with a very positive attitude. Needless to say, there has been a lot of stuff festering. For officials to register and start the process, as (LaRosa) mentioned, is enough at this point. We’re in a position where we’re going to take the next five to seven days and see what’s going on.”