Bonine, LHSAA use ‘team effort’ to get through 2020-21 season
In the mind of Louisiana High School Athletic Association executive director Eddie Bonine, it took about 14 months to go from the lowest of lows to the highest of highs.
Four days after the conclusion of the LHSAA’s 2020-21 championships, Bonine appeared on All Access on NASH ICON 106.1 FM Wednesday night and recalled the moment when he felt his association had turned the corner from the coronavirus, which shut down spring championships a year ago.
“When it really hit home for me,” Bonine said, “was on that Friday night and Saturday night of state track at LSU, when those athletes came around that final corner and down that home stretch to the finish line, and in unison, that standing room only crowd rose and screamed and hollered, with the sun setting over the stadium.
“It gives you goose bumps. That’s when I stood there and thought to myself, ‘we’re back.’ This is what we missed last year. This is what it’s supposed to be, and this is for those seniors that didn’t get to (compete) last year.”
After a delayed start to sports in the fall, all championships were completed in the 2020-21 school year.
“At the end of the day, it was a team effort,” Bonine said, “and we were excited we were able to do something positive for the kids this year.
“My job as executive director was … to maintain patience. We tried to stay within the guidelines we were given. At the end of the day, the executive committee of the LHSAA have been very supportive. We did it patiently, but we got it in.”
And patience proved to be a virtue.
“We have not had one case of COVID from any of the events we did in the postseason,” said Bonine. “Kudos to the training staffs, the epidemiologists, the coaching staffs and the school administrations.
“All the precautions we took were in compliance, and we had the opportunity to crown some champions at the end of the day.”
The path to get through 2020-21 wasn’t without its obstacles.
The biggest one? Determining “who was in charge of the contact tracing,” Bonine said. “That’s where teams were being devastated. If something tested positive for COVID, the whole team got quarantined for 14 days.
“That was the toughest part – the consistent application of the quarantine – not just for the LHSAA, but the epidemiologists across the state.”
Bonine said about 90 percent of the schools were in favor of what the LHSAA was doing in terms of managing high school sports amidst the coronavirus. “It was a small few that was barking,” he said. “I felt I was doing what was in the best interest of the student-athletes. That’s what I’m in this business for – participation and education-based athletics.”
COVID-19 led to adjustments in championships and playoffs for the 2020-21 school year, and “it opened our eyes to some stuff,” Bonine said.
“I truly believe that while there was a lot of negatives because of the pandemic, some of the adjustments we had to make, that will be a discussion at our June meeting and going forward. A lot of schools realized how much it cost to travel, and by having a limited attendance and restrictions, the revenue (was down).”
Much of the LHSAA’s usual 2020-21 business got pushed back a year as a result of COVID-19.
“We moved reclassification down a year,” Bonine said, “(and) we didn’t have our annual convention. We have our executive committee coming up June 2-3. We’ve got to get back on track.
One of the issues almost certain to come back up in the next school year are whether to continue split championships in football, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball.
“A lot can happen this year,” Bonine said. “Let’s put a year under our belt and see how it plays out.
“When we get to January of next year, we’ll be back on track and hope and pray for no other pandemics.”
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Lenny was involved in college athletics starting in the early 1980s, when he began working Tulane University sporting events while still attending Archbishop Rummel High School. He continued that relationship as a student at Loyola University, where he graduated in 1987. For the next 11 years, Vangilder worked in the sports information offices at Southwestern Louisiana (now UL-Lafayette) and Tulane;…