‘Unwanted’ schools may have to steer a new course

    It has become painfully obvious to principals and coaches of this state’s non-public high schools that their public school peers consider their football programs persona non grata.      And if a large percentage of these public school leaders, which make up three-fourths of the Louisiana High
School Athletic Association membership, had their way, the private and parochial schools would just go away.
    There is a groundswell of principals who want to separate the publics from non-public schools in every sport the LHSAA sanctions, and if they do, they may get their wish: the non-public schools might just go away.
    But private school leaders are not ready to impulsively respond to the knee-jerk reaction of a few principals, coaches and media types. They will let this situation play out in spite of the resounding cries you’ll hear ad nauseam to “let’s pull out.”
    Public school principals deemed the nine football championship games last December a rousing success. More schools got to play for plaques than ever before, even though the games did not necessarily match the two best teams in each class.    
    So, there were sporadic whoops and applause last Thursday when the majority of principals of the five football classes voted to continue to hold separate playoffs. The same was audible on Friday at the LHSAA’s general meeting when the masses turned down two more significant proposals that would have affected the football playoffs. The members did, however, allow a school to play in a higher classification up to 5A, an easy vote for public school administrators who no longer have to worry about their schools playing against the state’s top programs that are unlike their own.

What’s the next move?
Don’t be surprised if someone in the Louisiana Legislature gets involved during this election year. There are some politicians out there who seek the spotlight to focus statewide attention on themselves by taking up such a cause.
    But don’t hold your breath. There is work to do to solve the immediate problem of playoff scheduling.
    The Select football playoffs will need to be tweaked. Division I, which had just 10 teams last year, has been reduced to eight.
    When the LHSAA passed a proposal to make civil parish boundaries the official attendance zones for schools, the division lost Byrd High of Shreveport and Scotlandville, which were admitting athletically eligible students from outside their civil parishes. Under the new rule, students from outside the parish would be ineligible for one year. That changed the schools’ status from select to non-select.
    By my quick count, there are 96 select schools in the LHSAA, roughly 25 percent of the membership. Seventy-four are co-ed, nine are male only schools and 13 female only schools. Sixty-two of these field football teams.
    So the principals will have to decide if they want to continue to have four playoff divisions (two of 16 teams and two of 15 teams), or reduce the select football playoffs to just three divisions with 21 teams in the upper two divisions and 20 in the third.
    Of course, a few of these smaller schools may opt to play eight-man football, which was also approved last week. There will be one playoff class combining 1A-B-C schools (select and non-select status does not apply to this sport).
    The most feasible plan would be to list the 62  schools from top to bottom and slice them as evenly as possible into three divisions. Some schools that would have competed in the Division II playoffs will move up to Division I, and schools that were in Division IV will then be in Division III.
    That may solve the immediate problem. The long-term dilemma may come next January if the LHSAA Executive Committee allows principals to pass a proposal that separates all varsity championship playoffs and tournaments.
    The logistical nightmares will be unmanageable. The LHSAA will need more venues, more officials and more staffing.
    But one thing is clear: the LHSAA is more divided than it has ever been throughout its 94-year history.

Breaking up is hard to do
Neil Sedaka said it best in his 1962 rock-and-roll hit song. You don’t just say goodbye and walk away from an association without a well-conceived game plan. There’s too much at stake.
    The expense involved in starting a new association is enormous.
    An independent school league would need enough corporate sponsorships to pay a salaried commissioner, marketing director, finance director and supervisor of officials, not to mention rental of an office and clerical staff. It will have to retain an attorney who specializes in all areas of law that pertain to team sports.
    New and more officials would have to be trained and certified for every sport.
    Would a second association receive sanction from the National Federation of State High School Associations to use its guidelines, or go back to the NCAA rule book?
    Yes, making a clean split would not be easy. But the state’s high school administrators will have to come to some kind of compromise before they retire from their various school systems and leave the long-range ramifications for their successors to deal with.
    Central Catholic of Morgan City principal Vic Bonnaffee, the newly elected vice president of the LHSAA, is greatly concerned. So is Michael Boyer, principal of Teurlings Catholic and the chairman of the School Relations Committee, which will meet to discuss a future course in March.
    “I’m extremely concerned about the future.” Bonnaffee said, pointing out that there are principals with the mentality that playing for a championship in the Dome is an entitlement.
    “The other thing I’m concerned about is the emotionalism and the impact of people who want to extend this beyond football,” Bonnaffee said. “In this session, I believe, we came out OK. But there is an undercurrent out there of individuals who are not looking at what’s best for the whole organization. They’re looking at what’s best for their individual schools. The interesting thing is that none of their teams will make it to the Dome anyway.”
Choosing a school
    The consensus of public school principals is that private and parochial schools are “stealing” students who are rightfully theirs by virtue of their family domains being in their attendance zones.
    But why do parents, who can afford to, choose to send their children to a non-public school? I can cite a few reasons from my dealings with both factions over the years:
    ➤ Public schools are not allowed to offer a faith-based education, by mandate of the ACLU.
    ➤ A challenging curriculum that prepares the high school graduate for college and a professional career that will carry him or her far in life.
    ➤ A stable coaching staff hired by a principal or board, and not by a school system.
    ➤ The proper equipment and training that will help an athlete make an easier transition to the next level.
    ➤ A dedicated administration that is little affected by parish politics.
    There are good public, charter and magnet schools. I don’t mind singling out schools like Edna Karr, Warren Easton, McMain, McDonogh 35, Haynes, Thomas Jefferson and most public schools in St. Tammany Parish.
    Public schools need the non-publics in this area to boost their financial coffers from gate receipts at sporting events. They just don’t want to play them for a trophy.
    Ron Brocato can be reached at This e-mail address is being protected from spambots. You need JavaScript enabled to view it. .

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