A vote to allow select schools to take charge of their own championship games in football, basketball, baseball and softball passed Friday at the Louisiana High School Athletic Association convention in Baton Rouge.
Whether the action will lead to a further split between select and non-select schools or a possible reunification of sorts remains to be seen.
“In many ways, I’m kind of torn,” said Dwain Jenkins, Lutcher’s athletic director and head football coach. “You are disappointed in some ways because some of it can be seen as a little bit of a further division. Overall, when we talk about the sport of football, I think it’s a unique opportunity to play for a state championship in the Superdome, the same place where Super Bowls, Sugar Bowls, and next year’s college national championship game will be played. I guess, in some ways, I’m disappointed that now not all kids in the state will have that same opportunity.
“By the same token, I’ve talked to some of private school coaches across the state – especially like Coach (Frank) Monica from the River Parishes and Coach Monica was one of the ones that supported moving the select schools out of the state championship games in the Dome and going to the home and home – and I understand it. If that’s what the select schools feel is best for them, I think it’s only fitting they get to do what they feel is best for their schools.”
Monica, of St. Charles Catholic, reflected the sentiment of most select school coaches and administrators that Friday was a good day for select schools.
“I think it was a good step because we had to have some crossover votes from the other side for that to pass. I think they (the public schools) understand that it does nothing but bridge and gap and have better relations between the public and private side,” said Monica.
“The thing that made us a little bit happier is we tended the have a little more voice than we had before. It seems like they (the public school officials) are hearing us,” said Mark Wisniewski, the athletic director at Brother Martin.
“I think that what happened today is that the private schools are basically saying, ‘hey, we just want to be able to have to control our path in terms of playoffs, championships and all these other things. I don’t have a problem with that,” said Robert Valdez, athletic director and head football coach at St. James.
The split to select and non-select schools several years ago into classes and divisions has led to nine state champions in football and 12 in sports like basketball. Staging the championship events all at the same venue such as the Superdome in New Orleans for football has led to unusual start times to accommodate all the games – a major issue with the select schools.
“The bottom line is, who wants to play at 10 o’clock on the morning and be three hours away on a weekday when none of your fans will go?” said Timmy Byrd, Riverside Academy athletic director and head basketball coach. “The last eight years here at Riverside, we’ve had to play semifinal games (in basketball) at times that nobody from our school could go do, whether it be in Ruston at Louisiana Tech or Monroe or at McNeese.”
“It will not impact the public school side. Why would they not be in favor of that?” said Monica. “There will be less competition for nine slots (for football state championship kickoff times). That’s a huge thing. When you have to play a state championship game at 12 o’clock on a Thursday or 3 p.m. on a Friday and you are on the road three-and-half hours away, who can attend that?”
The select schools, said Jay Roth, Rummel’s athletic director, are more than capable of putting on their own championship games.
“My No. 1 goal is to have everybody together,” said Roth. “I’d much rather have everybody together than doing what happened today. I am old school. With that being said, can logistically, it be pulled off? Yes.
“Like I told the private schools I spoke with earlier, we all put on football games every week. We provide our own ticket takers, our own police and rent our own stadiums. If anything, the association will benefit from this because they will not even be involved in putting on the select games. We will be putting them on. We will have every expense and they will get their money off the top.”
“I’m old enough to remember when you could play a state championship at your own venue of choice or at home,” said Monica. “I experienced it in football and I experienced it in baseball and it’s a phenomenal, phenomenal experience for the kids.
“Now you are playing at a proper time slot and you are not traveling very far. Your whole student body and community can show up. That’s the beauty of it.”
In terms of football, no longer playing championship games in the Superdome does bring up another issue.
“You take a chance of a bad weather night – but it’s football – that’s the way it is,” said Roth.
On the other hand.
“There’s nothing wrong with playing on someone’s home field and selling standing-room only tickets,” Roth said. “You can say what you want about playing in the Superdome in front of 40,000, playing at Joe Yenni in front of 12,000 and people standing up along the side, that’s pretty cool.”
Roth is among those who feel Friday’s vote may help to bring the association back together.
“They (public school administrators) might look at, ‘look at what the select schools do? Look at the money they are going to make with their state championship football game? Look how nice it is for everybody to have a prime time football game? Nobody is playing at 10 in the morning.
“If they bring everybody together with five classifications, you could do that again. This could be the model to bring things back together.”
Not everybody agrees.
“I don’t think it will ever be reunified and I don’t think that there will a total split off from the LHSAA until the Catholic schools decide they’ve had enough,” said Byrd. “The bottom line is there will not be a total split off. There’s just no enough non-Catholic to do a split off.
“Everybody that says it will come back is not in touch with the animosity that still lingers amongst all the schools in the state. There is still that perception of unfairness and everybody wants a trophy and a lot of coaches like it the way it is.”
A deep divide remains between select and non-select schools but Friday’s action may have helped to stave off talk of a complete split and made the LHSAA a little bit stronger than it was before the vote, according to Jenkins.
“The private schools now feel that some of the things that are important to them, they were able to vote on and get approved instead of always feeling like they were the stepchild, as some of them referred to. This is probably the first time since the split occurred that the private schools outside of that vote two years ago that gave them the right to be able to vote on the select issues on their own. This was a vote of the entire body that actually gave the select schools some of the things they were looking for as far as control of state championship venues and the state championship calendar,” Jenkins said.