Archbishop Shaw will become the third former Catholic League member to declare it will invoke the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s “play-up” option when its member schools submit updated enrollment figures for the 2013-14 school year.
The school’s Director/President, Salesian Father Louis Molinelli, told the Clarion Herald on Wednesday of the decision he and Principal Salesian Father Louis Konopelski reached after consulting with the Shaw coaching staff, faculty, families, alumni and friends of Shaw.
He said the decision was reached with hopes of reuniting Shaw into a common “Catholic” district with Brother Martin, Archbishop Rummel and Jesuit in the fall of 2013.
After three years of efforts by Jesuit principal Michael Giambelluca and a few public school allies, the LHSAA passed a “play-up” proposal in January by a vote of 158-125. Schools will be allowed to compete one class above their enrollment-mandated class.
Following that announcement, two other Catholic League members, Holy Cross and St. Augustine, declared their intentions of competing in Class 5A, a class higher than their current class.
Father Konopelski expressed concern that it may be difficult for Shaw to compete in a higher class because of its enrollment of 505 male students. But, according to Father Molinelli, the two reconsidered in recent weeks.
“We feel it is more important to be a Catholic family of schools because we all come from the same values of who we are as Catholic schools,” he said. “How we function as a Catholic school is more important than staying where we are.”
Shaw is in the first of a two-year contract to be a member of District 9-4A with fellow West Bank schools Belle Chasse, Helen Cox, Edna Karr and O. Perry Walker, and McDonogh 35, located in New Orleans.
Like Holy Cross and St. Augustine, Shaw’s enrollment dropped significantly in 2005, all victims of the aftermath of Hurricane Katrina.
Holy Cross closed its Ninth Ward campus and rebuilt in Gentilly. St. Augustine, which was scheduled to open a middle school in the closed Epiphany School building in 2006, lost that opportunity when the nearby elementary school and church were badly damaged by the storm.
Shaw was able to maintain its campus and took in Catholic students from several high schools that were either closed or under repair for much of the remainder of the 2005-06 school year. But its own enrollment has been slow to recover.
Shaw reached the minimum number of students to return to 5A status for the 2009-10 and 2010-11 school years, but fell below the line again last year. The school must remain in its current district until June 2013.
Catholic school principals have been encouraging the Shaw administration to agree to rejoin the fold. Father Molinelli said he heard no negative comments when he and the principal talked with all the school’s constituents. “There were positive reactions in every case,” he said.
“We (Catholic school leaders) understand one another and work well together, and as a Catholic school educator, we have to look at the total education of a student,” he said.
Father Molinelli became the school’s top administrator in August 2011 after holding a similar post at Don Bosco Prep in Newton, N.J., for six years. Under Father Molinelli, the school’s Office of Alumni and Advancement reconnected with the alumni and raised funds for scholarship and educational advancement. In 2009 the Don Bosco was the No. 1-ranked high school football team in the nation on a national prep poll.
He said among his plans to encourage enrollment to Catholic families on the West Bank will be to increase the amount of financial aid the school offers to all students in accordance with the guidelines of the LHSAA.
“I got the impression that parents on the West Bank think education on the East Bank is better and that is why students are crossing over (the river),” he said. “But we have a unity with other Catholic schools. We are a family. We come out of a common standard of how we educate our youth and sports is important part of this.”
By Shaw agreeing to play up, it puts all the pieces of the Catholic League back together, except for one of the league’s charter members, De La Salle, whose enrollment is at the Class 3A level.
The Catholic League was founded in 1955. Its original members were St. Aloysius, Holy Cross, De La Salle, Redemptorist and the lone remaining charter member, Jesuit. Holy Name of Mary entered in 1956 and remained for just two years.
In 1966 Archbishop Rummel joined the Catholic League. Shaw and St. Augustine followed in 1967. In 1969, the Brothers of the Sacred Heart consolidated St. Aloysius with Cor Jesu and became Brother Martin. Then Chalmette joined as a public school in 1970. Three other public schools — Terrebonne, Thibodaux, South Terrebonne and Slidell – were also members for a brief time.
Brother Martin , Rummel and Jesuit are currently members of District 9-5A, which also includes Chalmette, Grace King and West Jefferson.
However, the Jefferson Parish school principals may petition the LHSAA to let them become one district to include Bonnabel, King, Higgins, West Jefferson John Ehret and Helen Cox and East Jefferson, should the latter two choose to play up.
Ron Brocato can be reached at email@example.com.