What faux pas next for LHSAA?

While you are reading this, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s 2018 annual meeting will be or will have been taking place in Baton Rouge.

There are no more items calling for additional separate playoffs for public and non-public schools as occurred in 2013 when the LHSAA voted to have nine football championships instead of five, or in 2016 with subsequent splits in basketball, baseball and softball.

Rather, basketball coaches want the LHSAA to restore one common set of playoffs for boys’ and girls’ teams. And there is an additional proposal to hold a combined championship tournament for the sport of softball.

What the coaches want doesn’t necessarily mean the nearly 300 principals who will be in attendance for the vote on Jan. 26 will give it a rubber-stamp approval.

Unless you have forgotten, the LHSAA is a private, principals’ organization. The men and women who rule the front offices are also judge and jury and decide what is best for the association, although not always beneficial to the thousands of student athletes who play the games.

The principals are the ones who will be voting on nearly 60 pages of items to be added to or subtracted from the LHSAA constitution and bylaws.

Doing away with the split in some sports is a starting point to declaring a true state  champion as there is in the sports of wrestling, bowling, powerlifting, soccer, golf, tennis, swimming, track and field and cross country.

But it will never happen. Principals saw to that in 2013 when they violated the association’s constitution to pass the split in football. They are still in violation.

The LHSAA has been a body in chaos since 2013 when the association’s executive director Kenny Henderson allowed principals to break their own rules by sending a proposal to have separate football playoffs to the body for a vote before allowing the executive committee to first approve it.

Railroaded through?

Was it an oversight or an illegal move (against the LHSAA bylaws) to railroad the split?

Henderson’s successor, Eddie Bonine, read the LHSAA constitution-prescribed procedures, as they pertained to classification and divisional changes, and discovered that protocol had not been adhered to correctly to foster that vote.

What occurred on Henderson’s watch, the proposal to hold separate football playoffs for schools classified as select and non-select was submitted for vote without the formal approval by the LHSAA executive committee as called for in the constitution.

When Bonine and the four individuals he called upon to review the 2016 agenda items (the executive committee parliamentarian, the association president, vice -president and past president) caught the discrepancy, Bonine asked the LHSAA legal counsel for an opinion.

The law firm of Boyer, Hebert, Abels & Angelle responded that the LHSAA constitution does indeed call for the approval of the executive committee before this key classification item may be brought to the full membership.

The attorneys’ response: “Logical conclusion is that any division across classifications taken to the full membership, without prior executive committee approval, would be out of order.”

But instead of rectifying the procedural error, the principals in 2016 doubled down by adding more sports to the split.

What can be done?

The key questions to arise are: Do the committee members not fully understand the LHSAA’s constitution and bylaws?

Did the executive committee ever think of asking its own legal counsel and parliamentarian for clarification or explanation?

Do the executive committee and the principals feel their opinions weigh more than a legal opinion? Then why have a legal counsel?

Because the Louisiana Supreme Court has declared the LHSAA a private corporation, the state Legislature’s hands are tied in its ability to intervene.

And the association’s bylaws do not allow a member principal to file a lawsuit. An LHSAA principal cannot be a plaintiff and defendant at the same time.

So, while returning to a common playoff as proposed for basketball and softball appears bleak, Bonine has taken steps to stop the bleeding of a dysfunctional association and protecting the LHSAA constitution by (1) successfully pushing the principals to vote that any future rule change will require a two-thirds vote at the annual meeting, and (2) not allowing principals from non-select schools to vote on items that pertain to select schools, and vice versa.

He successfully had a key rule passed that would not allow principals from schools that do not have football programs (classes B and C and all-girls’ schools) to vote on football matters.

Had these rules been in place in 2013, the LHSAA would not have separate playoffs with separate “state” championship trophies for public and non-public schools.

And there will be no more splits.

Henderson was relieved of his duties in 2014. But before his contract was not renewed, Henderson was named chairman of an ad hoc committee to look into a split association.

The subsequent findings were neither published nor were they sent to principals of every school. Sound suspicious?

Henderson’s back as a principal at The Brighton School in Baton Rouge, having been admitted to the LHSAA in 2017.

Good for him. As a principal, he is a respected educator.

The LHSAA, meanwhile, is struggling to find a way to provide true state championships in its major sports.

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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