By BRET H. MCCORMICK, Journal Sports
A Baton Rouge judge issued a temporary injunction on Monday that could have major implications on the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s playoff brackets this school year.
Nine high schools – including Tioga, Buckeye, Glenmora, Rapides, Northwood-Lena and Plainview in Rapides Parish – filed suit against the LHSAA after its executive director, Eddie Bonine, and executive committee changed the definition of what a “select” school is in the summer of 2022.
Also joining the lawsuit were Monroe City Schools Neville, Carroll and Wossman.
Before last season’s football playoffs, Bonine and the LHSAA executive committee changed the definition of a “select” school to include any school that offered a magnet program, all charter schools, and all schools in a district that offers open enrollment.
That move expanded the amount of select schools and produced playoff brackets that were more evenly distributed with teams. However, it also created hard feelings because the move was not ratified by a vote of the entire LHSAA body.
The LHSAA consists of more than 400 member schools, while the executive committee consists of 26 representatives, including principals and other appointees.
After hearing testimony Monday afternoon from witnesses on both sides of the issue, including Bonine and former Tioga principal Alan Lacombe (who now works at the Rapides Parish central office), Judge William Jorden of Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District ruled in favor of the plaintiffs.
The schools argued that being classified as “select” caused them undue harm and damage during the postseason of multiple sports.
All Caddo Parish public schools are now in the “select” division, but Monday’s injunction means they may be reclassified as “non-select” as all Bossier Parish schools are.
Northwood High principal Shannon Wall, who has been an outspoken critic of the LHSAA’s playoff policy change and how it was enacted just over a year ago, was the only person testifying in the hearing not directly affiliated with the lawsuit.
“We finally got to a courtroom – which we didn’t want to do except as a last resort – and what we’ve been saying all along won the day, so we’re excited. We’re willing to go with what a majority of the principals around the state decide, but that vote never happened.
“We don’t want divisions where there’s small number of teams in the playoffs. We want the select division to have full brackets, we want their kids’ experiences to be worthwhile, but the only way that’s going to happen is to allow the principals to have a voice. That’s what we’ve been fighting for, and that’s what we haven’t had,” said Wall.
In the LHSAA’s plan adopted last summer, Northwood was among schools around the state sent into divisions in which they faced much larger schools in postseason play in 2022-23. Wall said Northwood was wrongly classified as “select” due to a clerical error identifying it as a magnet school on the Louisiana Department of Education website.
“What we’re trying to do is what’s right for all the kids playing high school sports in Louisiana. I don’t want another group of kids to lose their senior years competing in situations that are simply unfair,” said Wall.
State Rep. Michael T. Johnson, R-Pineville, who is the attorney for the Rapides Parish School Board, served as the co-counsel for the plaintiffs while the lead counsel was Baton Rouge attorney Brian Blackwell – a graduate of Shreveport’s Woodlawn High School.
Blackwell argued that Bonine’s changing of the definition of “select” in the LHSAA glossary affected every amendment that included that word and that Bonine did not have the authority to change amendments. Johnson said Blackwell used the LHSAA’s own constitution against the organization, and he was pleased that Jorden sided with the plaintiffs.
“It was a thing of beauty to watch,” Johnson said.
The LHSAA has the right to file an appeal of the injunction, but Johnson said he’s hopeful the organization will do what it should have done all along – bring the issue before all of the principals for a vote.
The principals deferred a vote at the regular LHSAA meeting this past January believing it might have an unwanted negative impact on the basketball playoff brackets, which were to be released soon, and those of spring sports. Many principals believed the issue would be addressed at a meeting this past June, but that meeting never occurred.
Attempts to reach representatives of the LHSAA were unsuccessful Monday evening.
Johnson said he hopes the LHSAA can call a special meeting within the next few months – before the football playoff brackets are released in November – to address the issue.
“I just appreciate that we (in Rapides Parish) have a group of principals, a school board and a superintendent who were willing to step up and do what’s right,” Johnson said.
Wall praised all the plantiffs in the suit.
“Alan Lacombe in Alexandria, and Mickey McCarty from Neville were very essential to all this, because they’ve been catalysts and their parishes were willing to put up the money and hire the attorneys,” he said.
Monday night, Wall echoed Johnson’s hope that the LHSAA will not pursue legal action and all of the state’s principals will be included in developing a system that gains majority approval from the entire group, not just the LHSAA’s executive committee.
“Hopefully we’ll be included in the process. We’ll see,” he said. “We’ll get together to hopefully work on proposals to keep this from happening in the future.”
- With reporting by Doug Ireland