I had hoped to avoid writing the following words for publication, but I have no reasonable doubt left that every non-public school should withdraw its membership in the Louisiana High School Athletic Association by the start of the 2017-18 school year.
And school boards that run the various diocesan high schools should allow this impending exodus, precipitated by a large majority of public school principals who puttheir “select” partners in this untenable position.
These learned men and women, championed by two of their peers, Jane Griffith (formerly of Winnfield High) and Many principal Norman Booker, turned down a final attempt to re-unify the LHSAA at a June 8 meeting in Baton Rouge when they voted to further separate themselves from a minority group of non-public schools in four additional sports.
They were offered four alternate proposals designed to return the state playoffs to normalcy, all of which were turned down when more than 56 percent of principals and surrogates voted for “none of the above.”
Separate playoffs in boys’ and girls’ basketball, baseball and softball works for them because of their large numbers, but this split does not for the smaller number of private and parochial schools.Furthermore, it will be costly to the LHSAA and make it extremely difficult for host cities to hold so many championship tournaments.
Revenue lost for many
It will be a financial setback because the tournaments will have to be reduced to just semifinal and final round games. The “Fast Pitch 56” softball tournament will be reduced to 28 teams for public and non-public schools. Fewer teams in town … fewer motel rooms sold … fewer meals served at local restaurants.
The LHSAA’s executive director Eddie Bonine is considering proposing that all playoff brackets be reduced from 32 to 16 teams across the board in all sports. That would require a change in the LHSAA handbook, which the public school principals would undoubtedly vote against because there would be fewer “participation trophies” to go around.
What is disturbing is that these principals don’t realize what they have done to this association. To their misguided, Polyanna way of thinking, “This is for the benefit of the athletes because (the split) will give more kids a chance to win a state championship.”
They may consider it a “state” championship, but it will be just a public school championship. You have to beat the best to be the best.
So, after 87 years as members of the LHSAA, non-public school principals throughout the state finally get it that if they maintain membership in an association that treats their schools like stepchildren, they will be subjected to any and all future degradation the majority devise. And it’s time for their school boards to “Let my people go!”
There will be subsequent meetings over the next several months to map out the structure of a new association, be it an athletic cooperative of some sort. And these administrators who frame their new constitution will get it right because they have been victims of doing business the wrong way for decades.
Inclusion is the key word
Catholic and private school administrators want to form an association that will be inclusive to any school that wants to join; one in which everyone has an equal voice. They will create a level playing field for each member because every school will have identical eligibility rules. And the new body will be open to public schools as well.
Baton Rouge lobbyist Paul Rainwater has already put together a structure for a sports cooperative that could be the prototype for a new association. It would require a two-thirds vote, rather than a simple majority, to change any bylaw.
In an earlier interview with the Baton Rouge Advocate, Rainwater remarked about a school with a losing record that made the football playoffs. “If the conversations are just about making kids feel good about themselves, we’re not teaching them anything about life. I went 10-40 (in football) my freshman through senior year. I don’t think that harmed me. I think it taught me about life.”
Split playoffs will multiply the number of teams with losing records in playoff brackets for four more sports.
Little respect for leadership
Public school principals at the special meeting showed neither support nor respect for LHSAA president Vic Bonnaffee, for trying to find a common ground between the schools to return to association to some semblance of unity. They did so by ignoring his peace offerings.
Among the most disheartened men in LHSAA is Bonine, who is probably wondering why a “Good Old Boys (and Girls)” organization hired him if they didn’t want a pro-active businessman to bring positive change? His role has been reduced to turning their whims into a working model.
Bonine said he is preparing an operations budget for 125 schools in the event a large number of members pull out. He said that was a round number – give or take 10 percent – that includes any school defined as select. In that number are more than 80 private schools and 49 Catholic schools. It also includes charter schools. The LHSAA, he figures, could lose a third of its membership.
He said, “Let’s just say for example, if 150 schools choose to leave, that would leave us with 240 schools. It’s still a viable association. But can you afford to play championships in larger venues? Probably not.”
I have covered high school sports in Louisiana forever. I’ve observed the LHSAA’s rise, and I may not be witnessing its demise.
At the dawn of the LHSAA, the organizers decided to compose bylaws that gave the principals the sole authority to write and rewrite the rules. Calling it a principals’ association, they set the standard by which the LHSAA would do business.
They determined that only public schools could become members. Catholic schools, some of which referred to themselves as “colleges,” were persona non grata for the first nine years.
Then in 1929, they opened membership to all bonafide high schools, regardless of which system governed them.
Rules were passed at the annual conventions through fair, bipartisan collaboration for decades. And although there were grumblings of private schools being able to recruit, the public schools still won the lion’s share of state championships.
When parity was reached, that all changed to where the LHSAA stands today.
Last month, the LHSAA honored me with induction into its Hall of Fame, for which I am grateful. But I cannot deliver an ode in homage to an association that wants to return to a body of exclusive schools as was its intent when the LHSAA wrote its charter in 1920 as an all-public school body.
There is a better, more professional association waiting to be born.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com