LHSAA football is now definitively set to begin Oct. 8-10.

The firm start weekend was achieved through a team effort that involved work by legislators, the attorney general's office, the governor's office, the LHSAA and education groups.

The groups worked for more than a week behind the scenes — an effort that wrapped up Thursday night in advance of Friday morning's House Education Committee meeting at the State Capitol. The agreement alleviated LHSAA coronavirus pandemic liability for schools and conflicts with Louisiana's phased reopening.

Parents, coaches and athletes from multiple schools around the state — including Jennings High, located in southwest Louisiana — filled the available seats in the meeting room. Others watched via live streaming from other nearby rooms.

"In this case, I waited as long as I could wait to make sure we got every path covered," LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine said afterward. "And I truly believe our coaches and all the local administration people ... they've kicked tail, and they are ready. With the hand that they have been dealt now, they are going to get another case of normality."

Rep. Buddy Mincey Jr., R-Denham Springs, helped jump-start the process by requesting an opinion on Act 9-related liability for the LHSAA and its schools. Mincey was the original author of the legislation that became Act 9.

Attorney General Jeff Landry then issued an opinion stating that playing high school football would not carry liability for LHSAA schools under Act 9.

When the Thursday meeting began, House Speaker Clay Schexnayder, R-Gonzales, made an opening statement, which gave away the pending announcement of the agreement. Bonine also thanked all the groups involved for their work to reach an agreement.

"I appreciate you all working hard and getting things done like this," Schexnayder said. "I've said this before with other pieces of legislation we've all worked on: When you bring people together, a lot of good things can happen.

"I thank all you parents, teachers, coaches and everybody involved in this for your emails, your calls and support. This is huge. I want to be clear ... this meeting and its actions are not an attempt to ignore public safety. It's about beginning to move out of a temporary abnormal and back to life."

Bonine then told the group he is prepared to go to the LHSAA executive committee on Sept. 9 with a proposal to move forward with full-contact football practices and the season on Oct. 8-10, regardless of Louisiana's phased approach to reopening.

When asked, Bonine said he expected the proposal to pass without issue, clearing the way for LHSAA's football schools to do full contact football drills late next week, leading to the possibility of scrimmages and possibly a jamboree before the start of an eight-game football regular season. Playoffs are set to run through the month of December.

Interestingly, Gov. John Bel Edwards issued a statement after the meeting which stated that his proclamations were never intended to keep the LHSAA from playing football this fall.

The sentiment was echoed by Cade Brumley, the state's new Superintendent of Education, and BESE Board President Sandy Holloway. In July, Bonine had said the LHSAA would follow the guidance of state leaders during another House Education Committee meeting.

"My proclamations have never said that you can’t play high school football. The high school football association made a decision to link the phase that we’re in with my proclamation with what they would allow to happen on the high school campus," Edwards said in a statement released Friday. "They have opted to change that guidance now in the event that we don’t go to Phase 3.

"The current proclamation ends next Friday… In the middle of next week, or Thursday or Friday we’ll be making an announcement about whether we are going to go to Phase 3. I hope that we can. I hope the data supports that. We’ve always wanted to be able to do that."

Later Friday, New Orleans Mayor LaToya Cantrell said she might not be willing to let city schools play football before the state moves on to Phase 3.

“We’re in Phase 2, with no contact sports at this time,” she said at a news conference with Edwards.

Others praised Bonine for working with them, including Rep. Larry Frieman, R-Covington, who like the attorney general had written letters urging the LHSAA to move forward its football season. Frieman proudly recognized a group of Fontainebleau players at the meeting, calling them his "Abita boys."

"This is a something I've been working on for a while," Frieman said. "I'm thrilled. All these guys want is a chance to play."

The LHSAA had set its plans to begin an eight-game football season before fall practice began last month. But teams had been unable to move to full contact drills because Louisiana remained in reopening Phase 2, which did not allow contact drills for football.

Plans for spectators for all fall sports are still to be finalized, but could tentatively allow 50% occupancy for football. Volleyball will be allowed to have a total of 50 spectators for its games next week under Phase 2 guidelines.

The committee also told Silliman Institute headmaster Kevin Lemoine that his Midsouth Association of Independent School teams should also be covered by the agreement reached Thursday. Lemoine told the group his team will miss its third regular-season game Friday night but will play next week. He asked for guidelines for his schools to begin their fall softball and soccer seasons.


Email Robin Fambrough at rfambrough@theadvocate.com