Championship split still hot topic for LHSAA convention

It’s been a year since Louisiana High School Athletic Association member principals turned the state on its ear by splitting its football championships.

The rollercoaster ride that followed included angry rhetoric, threats of lawsuits and intervention by the Legislature. And finally, there were nine football championship games where there were traditionally five.

Keeping all that in mind, it’s no wonder that skeptics look at the start of the annual LHSAA convention this way: What have you got for me now?

The three-day convention at the Crowne Plaza starts Wednesday with a series of afternoon meetings, including an executive committee meeting at 1:30 p.m. Class meetings set for 3:15 p.m. Thursday are pivotal, along with the 9 a.m. Friday general assembly vote.

“What happened with our basketball tournaments the last couple of years shows you can change things,” LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson said. “We proposed combining our (girls and boys) tournaments, thinking that would bring us bigger crowds. But it didn’t, so the principals voted to go back to separate tournaments.

“The way people viewed the football changed as the year went on. At first, they thought it was the worst thing ever. Some schools really liked it, and others didn’t.”

Henderson points out that the option to make changes to the bylaws is the prerogative for principals every year. The stakes seem higher now, thanks to a number of proposals developed by the school relations committee to address the split and other major issues like recruiting and school transfers.

Principals vote Thursday whether to continue split football championships for select and nonselect schools in each class. A proposal to rescind the entire split plan is on the Friday agenda.

Sweeping changes that would make the parish boundary the attendance zone line for each parish, transfer-rule changes that would regulate how students move from one parish to an adjoining parish are on the agenda too.

A proposal to allow schools to play up by more than one classification and two success factor proposals that would require schools to play up based on past playoff success also are there.

Griffin’s view

Splitting football championships based on nonselect or traditional public schools and select-status broke 90 years of tradition. Previously all LHSAA schools played for the same championships. Select schools, a group made up of private, laboratory, full magnet, some charter and dual curriculum schools were deemed select.

Winnfield Principal Jane Griffin was a key figure in the change. At the time, Griffin said she didn’t realize how significant the move was.

“When we proposed it, I didn’t think it (split championships) was going to be the significant,” Griffin said. “A lot has been said and written the past year. I haven’t read those things. But I do know if I had do it over again, I would, because it’s what’s best for my school. I’ve talked to others, even some select schools, who say they like it.”

Griffin said she was pleased with how the first year of the split played out. She nixes the notion that she was disappointed when Winnfield didn’t win a state title.

“A student from our school won the (LHSAA) poster contest, so I got to see the 2A game and the 3A game that Friday,” Griffin said. “Many and Kinder were teams we played during the season, and it was exciting to see them play for a championship. They had always run into John Curtis or Evangel and never got the chance.

“I have a grandson who plays for Livonia. As a grandmother, I wish Livonia had won, but it was an exciting game with two teams that hadn’t played for a state title before.”

Griffin was part of the school relations committee that drafted proposals designed to ease tensions between select and nonselect schools. She called it a learning process she enjoyed. She said she will vote to continue the split in 2A and wouldn’t be opposed to splitting other sports in the future.

“The thing I liked was that everybody was very professional and honest, regardless of whether they were a select school or a nonselect school,” Griffin said.

“Once they (committee members) explained to me how making the parish line the attendance boundary for all schools in a parish would help, it made sense to me.”

Which way do we go?

School relations committee chairman Mike Boyer of Teurlings Catholic was a charter member of the committee when it was formed 16 years ago.

Boyer points out that the committee was formed as a means to avoid a split, something the LHSAA successfully did twice before. Last spring, the committee was charged with finding way to keep the split from extending to other LHSAA sports.

Like Henderson, Boyer said he is not sure which committee proposals member principals might consider adopting Friday. Committee proposals that deal with eligibility must garner a two-thirds vote of the membership to be considered this year.

A slightly different proposal to make the parish line the boundary for schools, by University Principal Albert Camburn, will be up for a vote.

“I do feel like we’re in a better place now than we were a year ago,” Boyer said. “What happened (the split) forced things out in the open. People on both sides had to talk, and they were honest.

“Everyone on the committee didn’t agree with every proposal, but they understood it was important to address a lot of issues. For me, the most important thing of all is that these proposals are going before the entire membership to see and hopefully vote on.

“We’ve come to the executive committee with some of these proposals in the past, but they were not put on the agenda by the executive committee. That made schools think nothing was being done to address their concerns. I credit Todd Guice (LHSAA President from Ouachita) from getting that (executive) committee to understand that.”

Split to stay?

Boyer, like most private school principals, would like to see the split rescinded. Two other school relations committee members from public, Zachary Principal Wes Watts and Iowa Principal Mike Oakley, offer contrasting views.

“I was never in favor of the split,” Zachary’s Watts said. “I’d like to see all classes come back together for football. Hopefully, we can make some steps in that direction with our votes in the class meetings.

“Based on numbers, I’d like to think that 5A and 4A may come back together. There aren’t that many select schools in either class. I don’t want it to extend to other sports.”

Oakley favors the split and said most public schools in and around the Lake Charles area where

Iowa is located also liked it. He cited Kinder’s run to the 2A championship as a rallying point.

“The people around here really like it (split),” Oakley said. “They see that Kinder won a state championship and feel like maybe they can do it too. Most of them would like to see other sports split because you have private schools that dominate in baseball, softball and volleyball. I’m happy with the work we did. The schools (have) some things they can consider.”

Lutcher High football coach-athletic director Tim Detillier also was a member of the committee and, like Watts, is a public school figure who has opposed any split. Nonetheless, he thinks the football split may be here to stay.

“I talked against it (football split), but there are plenty of people who like it,” Detillier said. “One thing I think everyone agrees on is that nine champions is too much for the number of football schools we have. We may have to look at how we can tweak it to make it better, and that may take a couple of years.”

Never-ending story

Mandeville High Principal Bruce Bundy, a member of the LHSAA executive committee, sees the class votes on whether to continue the split and the parish line attendance zone votes as crucial.

“It will be interesting to see how those class votes go,” Bundy said. “I think nine state champions is way too many. But how do you draw the line? But at the same time, I’m not sure there’s a level playing field that gives every team a fair chance to win a state title.

“Private schools can draw students from multiple parishes, and we can’t. I’m not sure that the parish boundary is going to be the answer for everyone. It may help some people.”

Bundy conceded that it may be impossible to curtail all recruiting, but noted, “That doesn’t mean we shouldn’t keep trying.”