LHSAA principals vote to keep split of football championships

Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELDAcadiana's  Edward Cormier, named the Most Outstanding Player, tries to get away from Parkway's Micah Lacy during the fourth quarter of the Class 5A championship during the 2013 Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Farm Prep Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.
Advocate staff photo by SCOTT THRELKELDAcadiana's Edward Cormier, named the Most Outstanding Player, tries to get away from Parkway's Micah Lacy during the fourth quarter of the Class 5A championship during the 2013 Louisiana High School Athletic Association State Farm Prep Classic at the Mercedes-Benz Superdome.

Class actions sent a strong message on the eve of the Louisiana High School Association’s annual general assembly vote.

None of the five football-playing classifications voted to end split championships for their schools during separate class meetings that helped highlight Thursday’s events at the LHSAA’s annual convention.

The combined vote of 152-67 during the meetings held at the Crowne Plaza were a surprise to some. The LHSAA convention concludes with the 9 a.m. Friday general assembly vote on a 40-page agenda that includes a proposal by E.D. White Principal Michelle Chiasson that would rescind the split in all classes.

A number of other proposals designed to ease tensions between select and nonselect schools that led to the split of football championships a year ago also are on Friday’s agenda. Those proposals address attendance zones, transfer rules, how schools can play up in classification and financial aid policies for private schools. Two tournament-success-factor proposals have the same aim.

Thursday’s class meeting votes showed that member principals on hand had a different aim in mind. The 5A vote was the closest, but principals voted 33-24 to stay split. It was a 25-16 vote in 4A. The other votes were 36-12 in 3A, 34-7 in 2A and 24-8 in 1A.

“I really didn’t know what to expect,” LHSAA President Todd Guice of Ouachita said. “I really did expect maybe one or two of the classes to vote differently, but I can’t say I’m completely surprised. I thought 4A and 5A would have had a chance to come back together and it was close.”

Zachary Principal Wes Watts, one of the co-authors of the proposal to reunite 5A schools, expressed his disappointment.

“I really thought in 5A that we were fine … that this was going to pass. I didn’t take the time to talk to a lot of people,” Watts said. “And that’s on me. My understanding before today was that more people were for it than against it. We misread it.

“I’m disappointed for the kids. Overall, I’m disappointed. I’ve always believed we should all compete together. There are some great ramifications down the road that we won’t know until after the meeting tomorrow.”

Mandeville Principal Bruce Bundy represented the opposite view in 5A.

“I think we’re stronger together, but I understand what brought us here,” Bundy said. “When schools can take kids from anywhere and the public schools can’t, it seems not to be a level playing field. This has been going on for years and years.

“I think that some of the public school principals want to stand up and say I want the same opportunity. I don’t think this will move forward a lot in separating the other sports. I think the executive committee will be faced with some tough decisions about how to make the state championships run more smoothly.”

While Bundy expressed a belief that the LHSAA split will remain just for football, there was a different message sent in the Class 2A meeting.

Many Principal Norman Booker told those in attendance he plans to amend an item already on the agenda so that it would split all LHSAA sports.

“If it’s a good feel for football, it should be the right feel for the other sports,” Booker said.

Though she voted in favor of reuniting 5A, East Ascension Principal Traci McCorkle also noted the need for parity in other sports.

“After I spoke with our coaches and assistant principal in charge of athletics we felt the ‘yes’ vote was right for us,” McCorkle said. “We really feel like if there is going to be a split, we feel that it should be more than just football. There are greater disparities in other sports. Look at volleyball, for example. And if people feel select schools have players they shouldn’t have, let’s enforce the rules.”

Most of the reactions from principals and coaches who attended the class meetings expressed differing views.

Schools in Class 3A, 2A and 1A were viewed as the least likely to move away from the split and the votes confirmed those beliefs. In Class 1A, an attempt to cut the Division IV select bracket down to 16 teams also failed despite the fact that there weren’t enough schools to fill out a larger bracket last year.

St. Frederick coach Jeff Tannehill spoke against reducing the bracket, saying more schools needed the option to participate. Tannehill, whose team was the Division IV runner-up, was a rare select-school advocate of the split.

“I think that the split was good because it gives kids a lot more opportunity to win championships,” Tannehill said. “Some people say that (competition) is watered down, but I truly believe it is the best that has happened in the history of the LHSAA as far as football goes.”

Watts was not the only nonselect school principal to favor ending the split. John Hiser of 4A Karr was a co-author and among the more eloquent spokespersons.

“It’s unfortunate,” Hiser said of the vote. “In our country, majority speaks. Some people are looking for some type of mythical level playing field forget the pendulum swings backwards and forwards as far as being successful from one year to the next. Who knows what the future brings?

“We tend to want to design the future based upon the past. Maybe we need to have 60 championships? At the end of the day, what does it mean? Are you the best? Or are you best of the rest? Maybe to some folks the answer is really not that important.”

Those who saw the split and a one-year trial, like Brusly Principal Walt Lemoine, also noted the significance, not only of the vote but of last month’s split championships had.

“We did it (the split) for one year,” Lemoine said. “I think people were satisfied with it and that’s what we’ll continue to do.

“Personally, I’m not glad we’re in this situation. But as far as how it worked out, I just know we had two community schools that made it to the (Mercedes-Benz Superdome in 3A). Things are changing so much not only in the world of athletics, but also in academics.”

Mention of football powers like John Curtis and Evangel Christian, schools deemed by public school principals as being reasons for the split, was limited. Green Oaks-Shreveport Principal Marvin Alexander was an exception.

“I just think if it’s not broke, don’t fix it. This season showed that everybody can participate in the party and it can go well,” Alexander said. “Until these select schools play on the same playing field as us, this is the way things need to be. Evangel, for example, out of the 300-something students they have, 300 of them are athletes. While I have to deal with deal with test scores and academic mandates, they don’t. The playing field needs to be equal.”

Predictably, those opposed to the split expressed some frustration, including Rummel

“We’re disappointed,” Rummel Principal Scalco said. “We were hoping it would pass and it didn’t. We will get together and discuss options and see what happens. A lot of the Catholic League principals feel like our votes really don’t count.”

LHSAA Vice President Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic said he believes the split fosters a mentality of entitlement in which both select and nonselect schools expect playoff berths and success.

“I’m not surprised, but I am disappointed,” Bonnaffee said. “I’m a purist and I really want the association as one.”

Rod Walker, Trey Mongrue, Chris Chapple and Reed DeSalvo contributed to this report.