January 29, 2016: A date that may live in infamy
While public school principals were celebrating their delusion of successfully separating themselves from their private and Catholic school counterparts in three additional championship sports, they may not know what they have done to damage themselves and their association permanently.
To no one’s surprise, and against the impassioned plea of Louisiana High School Athletic Association executive director Eddie Bonine, nearly every public school principal joined the voting bloc necessary to hold separate playoffs in the sports of basketball, baseball and softball, beginning with the 2016-17 school year.
Their animus against the LHSAA administration was evident as 182 of 302 voting principals passed the punitive proposal. They figuratively slammed the football down in the end zone after scoring a touchdown.
A day later, Parkway coach David Feaster told the Shreveport Times he believes the momentum of that vote should lead principals to create a split in all sports next year. Feaster said the principals would have voted for it at the infamous Jan. 29 general meeting in Baton Rouge if not for constitutional concerns.
Some of the remaining sports in question are considered “minor” and not widely budgeted by public schools. For example, just 33 percent of public schools have swimming programs.
The percentage of public schools participating in various other sports is as follows: 44 percent in golf, 39 percent in tennis, 43 percent in soccer, 27 percent in powerlifting, 20 percent in wrestling, 13 percent in bowling and just 4 percent in gymnastics.
But, yet, they want to split these as well, along with cross country and track and field, in which public schools have had the greatest success.
All of this could and may back re and change the face of the LHSAA, which has endured through many challenges for 96 years.
Vote created flash points
In defiance of a competent LHSAA executive director (for a change), public school principals have made it clear: “This is our association.”
That’s not quite true. The LHSAA belongs to the schools. Principals come and go. They are supposed to be the stewards of the LHSAA, abiding by rules that are fair to the nearly 400 members. But nothing could be further from the truth.
There is talk that when he’s finished dealing with the state’s massive budget crisis, Louisiana Gov. John Bel Edwards may intervene by vetoing the split, as was done in New Jersey last year.
But the LHSAA’s biggest nightmare may be on the horizon.
There is a groundswell of support for non-public schools to leave the LHSAA and form their own association. Easier said than done, but there have been meetings by principals and athletic directors in Baton Rouge and other parts of south Louisiana to consider other options.
Teurlings Catholic principal Michael Boyer, who chairs the LHSAA’s Schools Relations Committee, said two Baton Rouge public schools (Zachary and Central) have asked to attend the meetings.
This is not music to the ears of LHSAA president Vic Bonnaffee, who is the principal of one such school, Central Catholic in Morgan City. He is trying his best to calm the storm, but the majority of the association’s principals don’t seem to be interested in assuring domestic tranquility and promoting the general welfare of every school.
But if public schools continue to dictate the rules for private and Catholic schools, they could be on the road to destruction.
There are 70 LHSAA members that are not traditional public schools. They could link up with private schools in Mississippi and a few Louisiana independent schools to create a sizable high school group.
The new association would set up its own constitution and bylaws to protect each other, but not the public schools. The use of public school attendance zones for athletic eligibility would be a moot point. The playgrounds would be their oyster.
Athletic scholarships could come back into play, beginning at the eighth-grade level.
Because of the number of outstanding athletic programs Catholic and private schools offer, I would dare say that acquiring major corporate sponsorships would not be difficult.
There is still the question lurking: Will the Allstate Sugar Bowl continue to be the title sponsor of a split association?
The new private school association could have the best officials work their contests because they could afford to pay more.
A split would affect championship venues. Could the LHSAA afford to continue renting the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for the Prep Classic without major sponsors?
Private and Catholic schools have more parental and student support. Their games and matches draw more spectators than their public school counterparts in larger cities. So, without having to feed a percentage of the revenue to the association, the schools would split a big gate in almost every sport.
A new league would require strong leadership, as Eddie Bonine is attempting to provide to the LHSAA. Call him a commissioner or executive director, it matters not. The important thing is the new league will need a strong administrator who has solid business acumen and a background in sports administration.
A successful divorce is possible. But is that what we really want?
“We’re tired of public school (principals) dumping whatever they want on us,” is the general consensus of principals on the other side.
Feaster has a different point of view, one that seems to echo throughout the public schools: “Would schools move to leave the LHSAA? I would say that would be the best-case scenario. But there’s little chance of that.”
Public schools may be chuckling over their successful coup. But I believe the last laugh has yet to be heard.