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Louisiana High School Athletic Association President Bruce Bundy, left, talks with LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine, right, on the last day of the LHSAA's annual convention, which included a general assembly vote on proposals for changing LHSAA's select/nonselect split championships in its major sports or keep the status quo, Friday, Jan. 31, 2020 at the LHSAA's annual convention at the Crowne Plaza hotel in Baton Rouge.

Executive director Eddie Bonine answered the question plenty of people have asked: Why has the LHSAA delayed making decisions on its fall sports seasons as the coronavirus pandemic evolves?

“Why? Because what we talked about doing changed based on what governing bodies have passed,” Bonine said. “We are not kicking the can down the road. What has kicked the can down the road are the people who are not following state guidelines to help us get the COVID-19 numbers down.

“The LHSAA is a private organization, that is true. It would do us no good to make a decision that goes against what the state’s education leaders and legislators put in place. Our decisions would not be worth the paper they were written on.”

Bonine cited size limits for groups during the phases of Louisiana’s COVID-19 reopening and definitions of sports activities allowed during those phases as sticking. Those points, he notes, also are factored into legislation passed earlier this month.

During an interview the day after he sent an open letter to parents and athletes, the LHSAA executive director covered multiple topics. Bonine said correspondence he has received from parents has been 8-1 in favor of moving forward with fall sports, including football.

“First and foremost, I wanted the parents and general public to know I have gotten all those emails and calls,” Bonine said. “I’ve listened to their pleas and they can continue to reach out.

“They need to know our staff and executive committee have the same goal: to have fall sports. At no point have we considered canceling anything.”

Bonine told the House Education Committee almost two weeks ago that the LHSAA would follow recommendations and standards adopted by two other groups that also attended the meeting, the Louisiana Department of Education and the Board of Elementary and Secondary Education.

He pointed to the sequence earlier this month that saw House Bill 59/Act 9 pass and get signed into law. It limits the legal liability for public and private school districts in the face of a public health emergency, such as COVID-19.

Days after the House Education Committee meeting, BESE approved standards for public-school property for athletics in 2020-21.

Bonine noted the key guidelines are group limits for reopening of 10 people for Phase 1, 25 for the Phase 2 and 50 for Phase 3. Section 2 of Act 9 references BESE guidelines.

In addition to sanitation requirements, the Louisiana Department of Education set its recommendations, which allow contact sports, like football, in Phase 3.

“The general public knows nothing about House Bill 59 or Act 9 or any of this,” Bonine said. “And it is a strange dynamic because BESE typically rides in their lane and we (LHSAA) are in our lane. There is some overlap.”

After Louisiana’s Phase 3, what was deemed the LHSAA’s Phase 4 at the House committee meeting, Bonine says will be Competition Stage 1.

“Once we get to that — Competition Stage 1 — that is when we will move into the seasons and determine whether we need to shorten or alter them in some way,” Bonine said. “Those decisions will also be based on what the science with the virus tells us at that point.”

“A key part of that letter (to parents and athletes) was to let people know we do hear them and we have the same goal: to play fall sports,” Bonine said. “But there is not much we can do right now. We have to get to Phase 3 first.”

Louisiana will remain in Phase 2 until Aug. 7, Gov. John Bel Edwards announced Tuesday. The LHSAA’s official start time for practice, including football heat acclimation, is Aug. 10.


Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com