High school officials weigh in on split playoff proposals

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After a day of meetings and roundtable discussions on Thursday, the stage is set for a pivotal showdown as the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s annual convention concludes Friday.

Member principals and coaches expressed a variety of views on the controversial topics on the agenda: two proposals that would divide the 388-school organization into separate playoffs for nonselect and select schools.

Two previous attempts to split the LHSAA in 1998 and 2004 were based on completely separate divisions for public and private schools. Both those proposals failed.

Though the general assembly meeting for principals to consider a 30-page agenda is scheduled to start at 9 a.m., the LHSAA executive committee, on the advice of parliamentarian James Stafford, elected to move the three classification-related issues so that they’ll be considered at the end of the meeting.

Both playoff split proposals would allow teams to compete against each other in the regular season before branching off to separate playoffs.

A proposal by former South Beauregard Principal Marlin Ramsey calls for separate playoffs in baseball, basketball, football, cross country, soccer and softball starting in 2015-16. The South Beauregard proposal was tabled in 2012 and would have to be taken off the table in order to be considered.

Winnfield Principal Jane Griffin leads a group of principals proposing separate playoffs for football only starting this fall.

Both proposals define nonselect schools as traditional public schools with attendance zones and select schools as private, charter, magnet, laboratory and dual-curriculum schools with magnet components.

Also lumped into the group of classification-related proposals is one by the LHSAA executive committee that would classify football separately in five divisions. Other sports would be classified in six classifications. Like Ramsey’s proposal, the football by divisions plan was tabled in 2012.

“Of course the ones who are coming to me are in favor of it,” Griffin said of her proposal. “I’m picking up different vibes. A lot of the private school principals are very passionate about this just like I am.

“I’ve had several private school principals come to me and say ‘I don’t blame you at all, I know what you’re talking about.’ And I’m sorry for those who don’t break the rules. That’s the only we can try to fix it.”

Griffin specifically referenced football power John Curtis. She contends there is no way for the LHSAA to handle recruiting allegations, making a split the best solution. Winnfield lost to Curtis in the 2011 Class 2A title game. Griffin’s proposal grabbed the lion’s share of attention during formal discussions. Ramsey plans to see his proposal through as a spectator on Friday.

“I do think it is something the time has come to look at,” Ramsey said. “My goal was to give every kid that dream of being able to compete for a state championship.

“That doesn’t exist in some classifications now. And I think this is a way to enable that dream for more kids.”

Other principals said they were listening and talking to colleagues. During the afternoon roundtable discussion, Principal Clyde Briley, of Class B Midland, told those on hand he favored Griffin’s proposal and talked about frustration over a lack of change since 2004 when the last split proposal was introduced. Natchitoches Central’s Dale Skinner also said he favored Griffin’s proposal.

Newly-hired Redemptorist football coach Terence Williams, who left Donaldsonville High earlier this month, is among those who see both sides of the issues.

“I’ve been telling a whole lot of people I don’t know if this is the answer,” Williams said. “I know a few years ago when the private schools were able to play all the way up, we didn’t have this many issues. One group is going to be left out if one of these (proposals) passes.

“I do believe every principal is going to vote on what is best for their school. And that may not be what is best for the whole association.”

Scotlandville Principal Howard Davis also advised caution and noted his school would be a select school but could shift back to a nonselect school depending on enrollment shifts.

“When we start these meeting they say ‘Let’s do what’s best for the kids,’ ” Davis said. “I think we need to try and make sure we live up to that on this issue. But we’ve got to be careful that we don’t go to the extreme and start destroying things.

“When I was coaching, I was careful not to jump all over the people who were winning. We need to make sure this is something we should legislate.”

Like Scotlandville, McKinley is a dual-curriculum school. MHS Principal Armond Brown opposes the proposal and contends select is not an accurcate description for his school. Other principals cited concerns about all charter schools placed in the select group.

“We have a gifted and talented program,” Brown said. “We don’t select those students. They have to score high enough on a test to come to us. We can’t choose athletes to come to us.”

Zachary High Principal Wes Watts also opposed a split, saying, “I’m not in favor of any kind of split. We want to play everybody. If this is about football and one or two schools, it’s like punishing an entire class when maybe one or two students aren’t doing the right thing.”

“We’ve had a stable organization for a number of years,” St. Charles Catholic Athletic Director Frank Monica said. “And if someone is gaining an advantage, it needs to be addressed why there is an advantage. Let’s not treat the symptoms, let’s treat the cause.”

Brusly Principal Walt Lemoine said he is leaning toward voting for Griffin’s proposal.

“From what I’m gathering, No. 18 (Griffin’s proposal) is going to be the item of interest tomorrow. I’ve been trying to have an open mind and listening today.

“This is an item that has been lingering. Right now I’m leaning toward seeing what would happen if it passed. We can try it for football and see what happens.”

Grace King Athletic Director Jeryl Fischtziur was among those who expect the votes to go down to the wire.

“I expect a close vote,” Fischtziur said.