By BRET H. MCCORMICK, Journal Sports
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association will hold a long-anticipated special meeting today in Baton Rouge to discuss lingering issues defining playoff formats that need quick resolution.
A majority (at least 203) of the state’s 400-plus principals who make up the LHSAA membership must decide on a definition for “select” schools, and that definition will determine the makeup of the playoff brackets in the sports of football, boys and girls basketball, baseball and softball. The football playoffs are slated to begin next month, six weeks from now.
The meeting will be held at 1 p.m. at the Marriott hotel, located at 550 Hilton Ave. in Baton Rouge near the College Drive exit off Interstate 10. Principals can delegate their voting rights to their athletics directors.
North DeSoto High School principal Tamela Phillips, who sits on the LHSAA’s executive committee, sent a letter to LHSAA principals on Sept. 25 urging them all to attend the meeting, saying it was “critical for us to settle this issue.”
“Please let’s put the student-athletes first,” Phillips wrote. “It is our responsibility as adults to make the decisions that will best serve all of the student-athletes in Louisiana.”
In June 2022 the LHSAA’s executive committee elected to change the definition of what classifies a “select” school for playoff designation.
Originally, a select school meant any “private or public schools that have an established academic criteria that is used in order to determine the admission and/or retention of its students.” Roughly one-quarter of the LHSAA membership fell under that category.
The updated definition changed the designation of a select school to any “private or public schools that have a state or parish approved designation as a lab school, magnet school(s) with one or more magnet component(s), approved charter schools, parish wide approved open enrollment, state recovery district (RSD) application-based parish schools, tuition-based schools and/or any established academic and/or retention-days based criterion schools.”
That much broader definition brought an additional 85 schools under the select umbrella and made what was once a 75-25 split into a much more even 53-47 split with the majority remaining non-select schools.
LHSAA members delayed a vote on the issue last January in anticipation that a special meeting would be called in June. However, that meeting never occurred, and a group of nine schools in Rapides Parish and Monroe filed suit against the LHSAA, saying the executive committee couldn’t change the definition of select without a vote of the entire organization.
Alex Goodling, the principal at Northwood-Lena in Rapides Parish, said many principals feel like their voices were not heard during the process and that decisions were being made by a small group of principals on the executive committee along with LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine.
“In my opinion, we were led to believe this meeting was going to happen during the summer, it did not happen during the summer, and this is what needed to happen,” Goodling said.
Northwood-Shreveport principal Shannon Wall has contended for many months that today’s anticipated vote was the only proper resolution. He testified to that point in an Aug. 21 hearing in Baton Rouge’s 19th Judicial District which produced a temporary injunction halting the LHSAA from using its current playoff system until a vote of principals determined what course would be followed.
Natchitoches Central principal Micah Coleman is a new member of the LHSAA executive committee and said he could not represent that body’s perspective. However, he agreed with Wall and Goodling that having principals vote to decide the issue was proper.
Goodling sent out a memo to LHSAA principals last week in an attempt to clarify the position of the schools who filed suit against the LHSAA. Along with that were five amendments the group submitted to the LHSAA’s executive committee for consideration but were rejected.
Several amendments attempted to add language clarifying the executive committee does not have the power to amend the LHSAA constitution, and another amendment offered an alternate definition for a select school.
Under this group’s proposal, select schools would be defined as “tuition-based schools, private schools, charter schools, and magnet schools approved by the Louisiana Department of Education.”
Goodling said there are larger issues at play – some of which date back over a decade before many of the current principals were a part of the LHSAA – and while he doesn’t believe today’s vote will in any way will fix the elephant in the room, it could open the door for further discussions.
“I don’t begrudge the executive committee or Mr. Bonine because they’ve been battling select/non-select for years and they did at the time what they thought would be the best for the organization overall,” Goodling said. “But there’s a right way and a wrong way to go about it.”
No matter what happens today, Goodling said the fact that everybody will have a say in the matter is a positive development. Even if principals decide to adopt the 2022-23 definition and Rapides Parish schools remain classified as select schools, Goodling said most principals in his area and statewide would be pleased that proper procedure was followed.
“While I would not agree that we are a select school, at least the correct process has played out and we would live with it,” Goodling said.
Calvary Baptist football coach Rodney Guin, whose team is a leading state championship contender, echoed sentiments of many observers who foresee the current playoff system being ratified.
“I expect it to be voted ‘yes’ to keep what we have now,” he said. “I think most people are in favor of that. It evens up all the divisions with about the same number of teams. If we go back to the old way, we’ll have a bunch of 0-10 teams in the playoffs and I don’t think anyone wants that.”
- With reporting by Doug Ireland