Bonine still upset with LSA, still believes LHSAA can reunite as one

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When it comes to high school athletics in Louisiana, the entire makeup of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association may be coming to a head soon.

That is clear with the announcement of the formation of the Louisiana Select Association earlier this week.

Catholic High of Baton Rouge Athletic Director J.P. Kelly is the CEO of the new LSA and he spoke on All Access with me on WGSO 990 AM earlier this week.

The LSA formed its own Executive Committee and wants to negotiate its own deals for championships in which the current membership is split (football, boys and girls basketball, softball, baseball) under the LHSAA umbrella but LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine did not react positively at all to the decision of the Select schools, saying that the LHSAA does not recognize the LSA as a “sub-group” of the primary organization.

Bonine elaborated further on The Three Tailgaters Show on WGSO 990 AM with Ed Daniels and I Saturday morning (see above).

While Bonine admitted he fully expected the LSA to form, he is not in favor of how everything has unfolded.

Bonine stated that he disseminated an eight-page document to Select schools in February outlining what the LHSAA felt was necessary to host championship events.

“We didn’t get any response, we didn’t get any dates,” Bonine said. “The bottom line is what is was set to do was to give us dates and we were going to set the calendar and we couldn’t have their championships sitting on top of championships of the public schools for obvious reasons.”

The waiting game began.

“The April board meeting of the LHSAA came around, we didn’t have anything, the June meeting came around and now we’re in July and I was expecting a tournament format committee, somebody of a group of the Select schools who came together to make a proposal,” Bonine said. “I was also expecting something on a basketball proposal. Nothing came to us. We wanted to make sure we didn’t have any conflicts. There’s a lot of moving parts.”

Bonine was caught off guard by the LSA action.

“Out of the blue, we have an organization with a CEO, a board of directors and a tournament format with representatives for different sports and we can’t have them going out and writing checks for us that they can’t cash nor that we can cash,” Bonine said. “All I need is some dates on when we are going to play.”

The LHSAA has been planning and plotting to try to change the current playoff system.

“There’s an active survey in the hands of the membership,” Bonine said. “We were going to start what I was charged to do in June, coming up with a solution and bringing the association back together under a number of classifications, eliminating the Select and Non-Select or to stop the bleeding in regards to the present splitting of sports. Prior to doing that, I wanted to make sure that I wasn’t going to waste my staff’s time on putting a proposal to come together for our January convention.”

Bonine feels the actions of the LSA may have hurt the chances of the fractured LHSAA members schools coming back together.

“I’m trying to smarter versus harder,” Bonine said. “Now, we’ve got the survey in our hands where one of the options is two separate, complete organizations and to the majority of who has spoken to me and it hasn’t been a lot of people, actually, it’s been kind of scary quiet to be honest with you, that it looks like that the object of this is not conducive with us bringing everybody back together.”

Bonine expounded further on how the LSA action, in his mind, has jeopardized putting the members schools back together as one, competing in the playoffs together as was the case prior to 2013 in all sports.

“Absolutely,” Bonine said. “That was not the intent. We needed some dates, times and venues. I’m not trying to throw anybody under the bus. We expected a report from them (Select schools) much earlier, looking to get organized. It was somewhat of a blindsiding. I was thinking this is not going to go over well with some of the public schools. To answer the question of whether it jeopardizes putting it back together, yes.”

Still, Bonine remains optimistic that the LHSAA can return to being one as it was prior to the membership convention vote of January, 2013.

“Yes, sir, I wouldn’t be trying to do this,” Bonine said. “You know me well enough to know that. In the survey we’ve got, I’m not only surveying the principals, I’m surveying the athletic directors, the superintendents and all of the coaches. I’m trying to get all that information together, get in a room and show my staff and say ‘here’s what we’ve got.’

You’ve talked to coaches, I’ve talked to coaches and it depends on who you talk to and when you talk to them. Coaches want to play the best in all sports so they can play and beat the best doggone team in their sport regardless of where the kids sit their fanny in that chair to go to school every day.”

Bonine feels he has a way to get schools to change their votes an possibly reunite in the near future.

“None of the survey results are going to go outside of 12720 Old Hammond Highway,” Bonine said. “That’s the headquarters of the LHSAA in Baton Rouge. The results will go out but who voted for what will not. I’m going to approach our Executive Committee so at the annual convention this year, if and when we get to this point, we’re going to take a vote and the vote’s going to go up on the board to do whatever we’re going to do.”

Bonine addressed the issue of being secretive being a means to a positive ending.

“If it helps or benefits, right wrong of indifferent, treading on thin ice of potential transparency, we don’t have to post who voted for what as long as we get what people want,” Bonine said.

The tipping point is imminent.

“Whatever it takes, drastic times call for drastic measures and I truly believe we are where we are today because of a presentation we did at our June meeting where we said we are one vote or one proposal away from splitting in every sport, in every potential championship we have in our state which would decimate some sports that we have now,” Bonine said.

“If we did that, those sports just couldn’t survive. Unanimously, the executive committee gave me the charge of making proposals and trying to get back together or to create something to stop any further split. That was the charge. I truly believe that what we have now has run its course.”

Keep in mind that Bonine, upon being named to his position in December of 2014 and taking office of March of 2015, immediately embarked on trying to end the split and it nearly cost him his job. After a Mea culpa, whether required or not and after repairing relationships with angry Non-Select schools, Bonine was retained by the membership in June of 2016. His contract was extended in June of 2017 through the 2019-2020 school year. In April of 2018, Bonine has his deal extended into 2021.

The options moving forward are clear.

Option one is bring everyone back together in solid classification. Option two is to keep everything like it is and to have no further split but to adjust the present structure which Bonine admits “is not conducive to fair play and competitive balance.

Option three is to have two separate, complete organizations as is the case in Texas.

“That’s where we sit today with options,” Bonine said.

Incidentally, Texas is massively larger than Louisiana with nearly five times as many schools.

The current system of conducting playoffs in split sports is broken on many levels.

Ironically, the man who some have pointed to as the architect of the language and proposal to split is now a member of the Executive Committee of the LSA. You cannot make this stuff up. Kenny Henderson is now the Executive Director of The Brighton School.

Henderson served seven years as the Executive Director of the LHSAA before being voted out in October of 2014.

There are traditional, zone attendance public schools competing with public schools on the Non-Select side who clearly draw from multiple attendance zones.

Then, there are the unfortunate or fortunate (depending on your point of view) public schools forced to compete on the Select side where the numbers for very thin and the playoff brackets are an embarrassment and patently unfair to the schools competing.

Of course, there are the private schools who are forced into those pathetic playoff brackets and have been largely forced to play at lousy times on lousy dates in many of the split playoff venues and often times have to play each other all over again in the playoffs after squaring off in the regular season.

Finally, because of the low number of Select schools competing in the playoffs with four classifications, there is the issue of schools with perhaps a low 3A enrollment competing with schools with hundreds of more students at the top of 4A enrollment.

It is broken. Do enough people care enough to fix this or is this just about principals and schools looking out for their own interests and not the greater good?

I have always stated that the message sent to the students competing on the playing fields is dead wrong, that adults cannot find common ground, work together, find solutions and come together. The LHSAA is also polling student-athletes about the split and you can rest assured that young men and women, by a large margin, prefer to compete with everyone.

We hear that many coaches and athletic directors are against the split but that their principals and school boards are for it so they remain quiet. I understand keeping jobs and self preservation but where is the integrity, honesty and courage in that action or inaction, if, in fact, the premise is true?

Quite frankly, I am tired and fatigued of being asked about the split and whether it will ever end or trying to explain why public and private schools can compete in the same districts and play each other in the regular season but cannot play each other in the playoffs. I am almost as confused as the average observer as to what is going on and I have access to the parties involved in this business. That should tell you something.

The Select schools in Louisiana did what they felt they had to do and I commend them for doing so, though their timing was certainly tardy. The LHSAA is doing what it feels it has to do for its entire membership while trying to repair damaged relationships among its membership. Now, it is incumbent upon schools, namely principals to examine their collective consciences and do what they feel is best for their students.

All I can say is good luck with that. All sides are going to need it.

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Born and raised in the New Orleans area, CCSE Owner and CEO Ken Trahan has been a sports media fixture in the community for nearly four decades. Ken started NewOrleans.com/Sports with Bill Hammack and Don Jones in 2008. In 2011, the site became SportsNOLA.com. On August 1, 2017, Ken helped launch CrescentCitySports.com. Having accumulated national awards/recognition (National Football Foundation, College…

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