CROWLEY – The Louisiana High School Athletic Association is about to undergo a dramatic facelift.
In a stunning move Friday at the conclusion of the LHSAA’s annual meeting in Baton Rouge, school principals voted to split football playoffs into separate brackets for select (parochial, magnet and charter schools) and non-select schools (public high schools) beginning with the 2013-14 season.
The change will result in two additional state championship brackets. Public schools will continue to compete for separate championships in classes A, AA, AAA, AAAA and AAAAA. Parochial and magnet schools will compete in two divisions: (I) for Classes A and AA and (II) for AAA, AAAA and AAAAA.
The vote to approve the first competition-related split for reasons other than school enrollment figures in the 92-year-old association’s history came by a 206-119 margin.
The proposal (Proposition 18) was co-authored by six principals, including Iota’s Gibson Miller, who was more than happy with the outcome.
“We are elated and I think the community of Iota is elated too,” said Miller. “We want our kids here in Iota to have an opportunity and contrary to what is being said about it watering down a championship, our kids are going to appreciate a public school championship just as much as the way it is now.”
Iota has been in Class 2A the last four years and is now slated to move up to 3A beginning in the fall. The last two seasons the Bulldogs were joined in a division that included traditional football powers John Curtis and Evangel.
“At least we can start a season up in the fall and have a legitimate shot,” said Miller. “With these football factories that we are fighting against, it’s tough. I think we’ll have more schools that will be able to compete and every now and then earn a little accomplishment for themselves.
“Contrary to what’s being said, it’s not going to destroy school sports in Louisiana. In fact, I think it extended the interest in it a little bit.”
One other proposition (Proposition 8) on the agenda called for separate playoff divisions for select (private, parochial, magnet, charter) and non-select schools. Proposition 8 never made it to a vote.
Proposition 18, however, gained momentum with the aid of votes from Class B and C schools and won by a landslide.
“Last year, we had a proposition that was pretty strong and very comprehensive,” said Miller. “The two main things that they were complaining about was that it was a football problem and we want to protect our football schools.
“So we addressed the football problem and we protected the B and C schools, which would have pretty much been decimated last year by that. By doing that, we were able to secure support from B and C schools and we were able to get it through.”
Proposals for splitting the public schools and the private schools have been a hot topic for years, but it has been voted down twice, most recently in 2004.
Coaches weigh in
Of the five football schools in Acadia Parish, four of them were proponents of the split.
Church Point, Crowley High, Iota and Rayne High all voted to split the playoffs while Notre Dame was the only nay vote.
Church Point coach John Craig Arceneaux says that the split was a long time coming.
“I think it was just a problem that continued to fester and fester,” said Arceneaux. “People have always turned to the LHSAA and looked for answers or for them to enforce the rules and there’s always been loop holes in the rules for schools to gain advantages.
“From what I gathered from being in Baton Rouge the last two days is that the public schools are just tired of leaving that in the LHSAA’s hands and they just felt that this was a way to make a statement; make a move that there are things that need to be done.”
The proposal has played out as being controversial, especially since the media has basically narrowed down the main problem lying with just two schools - John Curtis and Evangel. Curtis recently won its 25th state championship in the last 44 years under legendary head coach J.T. Curtis while Evangel has captured 13 titles since 1993, the last in 2010.
However, Arceneaux disagrees that it is a two-school problem.
“Everybody’s approach is ‘let’s try this and if doesn’t work, we can always go back to the way things were’,” said Arceneaux. “But to try and put it on two schools, the problem is two schools. But the problem is also much larger than those two schools.”
Crowley High coach Josh Fontenot was on the fence heading into the meeting and remains that way even after the verdict was handed down.
“I’m still kind of surprised,” said Fontenot. “It’s one of things that has been talked about and talked about for years. I guess everybody finally had enough, or whatever, and they finally put it over the top. I was just surprised.
“There’s good and bad. Like I said, if I win the state championship, I want to have it be against the best competition that we could possibly play. On the other side of it, is it possible to compete with what some of these schools have become?
“I don’t know if it was the right thing to do. Like someone said today, ‘maybe we are making a mistake, but we’re doing something. As an association we’re taking responsibility. We think there’s something wrong going on and we’re doing something about it.’ With that point being made, it makes me feel a little bit better about the actions being taken.”
Notre Dame coach Lewis Cook, although not excited about the outcome, understands the reasoning.
“I think that a statement was made that public schools were fed up with the fact that nothing was ever done to the schools, that over the last 10 or 12 years, have won most of the championships,” said Cook. “I think today the statement was ‘enough is enough’. I mean, it (vote) wasn’t even close.”
Cook, who has won state championships on both sides (one at Crowley High and two at Notre Dame) acknowledges that some private or select schools do have an advantage over non-select schools and he feels that edge would only get worse.
“I think that the separation between the success that the private schools are having compared to the public schools was only going to grow larger, regardless. The governor of Louisiana basically said with his proposal last year that public schools are failing.
“He gave people the option to select schools, so they are giving you money to bail out of a public school and go somewhere else, that kind of sums up where we are right now. So the select schools were only going to grow and prosper more. That separation was going to continue to grow. That’s just the way things are today.”
Cook also believes the future championships under this new format will have lesser meaning that those of the past.
“It will diminish the meaning of a state championship on both sides,” said Cook. “Now the private schools won’t have a chance to determine if they ever were really the best because the best public schools are gone and the public schools that will win will wonder if they would have been the best if we were all still together.
“But I don’t think anybody really worried about that today. I think that’s kind of where we are with society today. Lets give everybody a trophy and make them feel good and we’ll go on about our business.”
Spring game returns
After Proposition 18, the next hottest topic at the convention was the proposal to bring back spring football game, which also passed with flying colors.
“There were a lot of coaches pushing for it,” said CHS’ Fontenot of the spring football game being reinstated. “It seems like, from my limited experience, that football is kind of getting picked on. When you look at days of preparation for sports, football has the least. We have one week in shoulder pads and then we play a scrimmage against a live opponent where some other sports have 20 some odd days to get ready to play.
“Then when they cut down on sports seasons they cut down on football and took five of our days in the spring. But they also took the (spring) game and that’s what I think people were upset with. We can deal with the days but let us get the game.”
Last year the Gents had a Green and Gold scrimmage against themselves to take the place of the spring game.
This year, in anticipation of the proposal passing, Fontenot has already been in touch with Cecilia coach Terry Martin and the two have agreed in part to play each other this spring.
“We are excited to have the game back,” said Fontenot. “Coach Martin and I have talked and it seems like we will be able to work it out so there will football being played in Crowley in late May.
“Last year we tried to make it (Green and Gold game) exciting, but this year it’s a lot easier because we’re actually going to play somebody.”
Proposal 1 failed. It sought to allow ninth-graders from feeder school to play sports in three-grade high schools.
Proposal 2 failed. It sought to change eligiblity for 19-year-olds to before Aug. 1 instead of before Sept. 1.
Proposal 3 passed. It allows transfer students to play junior varsity immediately if attending a school outside the attendence zone.
Proposal 5 failed. It sought to ban students below ninth-grade from participating in high school athletics.
Proposal 10 failed. Non-faculty members cannot serve as head coaches of football, volleyball and boys and girls basketball except for Class B and C schools.
Proposal 13 passed. It allows one-week baseball evaluation period, including two preseason scrimmages.
Proposal 14 passed. It allows separate girls and boys basketball semifinals and finals.