By Ron Brocato, Sports
Since being deposed of his position as executive director of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association six years ago, Kenny Henderson has not exactly let grass grow under his feet … or on the seat of his chair as head of The Brighton School in Baton Rouge.
The same can be said for two principals of Catholic schools on the other side of the state.
Henderson, who was voted out of office as the LHSAA’s top executive in 2014 after seven years of running the association, has authored nine amendments to the LHSAA constitution and bylaws that will be taken into consideration at the Jan. 29-31 annual convention. He did so as a key member of the Louisiana Select Association, whose task is to write proposals on behalf of the “unofficial” LSA, a self-appointed group of select-school principals the LHSAA does not recognize as an affiliate or spokesman.
His proposals range from removing the Class C classification to including the results of out-of-state games in the power ranking system. He offers them for consideration “in the spirit of fair play and good sportsmanship.”
Much more significant is a bold, collaborative effort by Dr. Stella Arabie, principal of Catholic High of New Iberia, and her counterpart at Loyola Prep, John LeBlanc, to reunite public and non-public schools into classes by eliminating the five select divisions.
Some former LHSAA members have pointed to Henderson as the guiding force behind split playoffs, which have been the norm since 2013.
A centennial decision
The LHSAA, approaching its 100th year as the administrator of high school sports in Louisiana, began in 1920 as an association of public schools. It remained as such until 1929, when the principals voted to allow Catholic and private schools to become part of the association and compete for state championships in all sports.
At that time in history, allowing non-public schools into the mix was hardly an issue of controversy because there were only a handful of these institutes around the state, and few were capable of competing successfully against the public schools.
But that changed in 1933 when Jesuit won its first state AA football championship. Holy Cross broke the public school stronghold by winning the AA baseball and track and field team titles in 1944. And the genie was let out of the lamp for another 83 years before 206 of 325 principals voted to segregate the schools by classes (for public) and divisions (for non-public) members seven years ago. As a result, the number of “state” championships nearly doubled from five to nine in five sports.
If Arabie and LeBlanc can convince the LHSAA membership at that vital business meeting that their plan will be the road map to reunification, separate playoffs in the segregated sports of football, basketball (boys and girls), baseball and softball will finally have come and gone.
The caveat is that it will take a two-thirds vote of the membership to pass each of their proposals, which are basically identical, with minor exceptions that pertain to each championship sport.
The joint amendment calls for the elimination of divisions – as simple as that.
All schools would compete in five classes in the sport of football (5A, 4A, 3A, 2A and 1A), and in seven classes of other championship sports (adding classes B and C), based on their size, as they had prior to 2013.
By doing so, each class would have enough playoff contenders to fill 32-team brackets, thus eliminating byes in the first round.
The two Catholic school principals said their proposal will allow the LHSAA to begin the healing process the split has caused.
“Select and non-select schools should be competing against each other,” the amendment reads under its Pros justification statement.
“Overall, coaches, players and fans want to see the best teams compete against each other for the ultimate championship.”
Spreading the wealth
If that proposal doesn’t receive the “super majority” vote, Select schools will continue to host their own playoffs. However, revenue sharing will be an issue that will need to be addressed.
And Arabie and LeBlanc have a plan in the form of an amendment that will allow playoff qualifiers to share a larger piece of the pie.
Using the state softball tournament as an example, it reads: “If the LHSAA, either on its own accord or via a third party, generates and distributes sponsorship revenue for LHSAA State Championship events, the LHSAA shall distribute the revenue on a pro-rata basis, in equal shares, to both non-select and select state championship sites, according to the number of games played at the site.
“At the 2019 Annual Meeting, the Select schools asked for and received the ability to host the State Select softball playoffs and championships. Hosting any event comes at a cost. In recent years, the LHSAA has turned to corporate and organizational sponsorships to help defray some of the expenses involved in staging an event.
“The LSA has accepted the responsibilities of hosting a state championship event and strongly believes that either current LHSAA sponsorship should be shared by both select and non-select tournaments or turn the sponsorship rights over to the LSA for Select School Championships.
“This proposal would allow for the Select schools to share in the sponsorship proceeds.”
This bold (the LHSAA office would call it audacious) plan flies in the face of the executive committee, which does not recognize the LSA as a negotiator for any group of member schools.
Nevertheless, the authors contend, “The Select State Championships remain under the purview of the LHSAA. Sharing the sponsorship revenue between the select and non-select schools guarantees that the LHSAA is upholding its obligations to afford equal rights and benefits to each and every member school.”
While the two principals concede that the proposal could negatively affect the overall LHSAA finances, they point out that its passage will positively affect the ability to host the best state championships possible, which has the greatest effect on student athletes.
Back to the Dark Ages
In a bizarre twist, the executive committee has proposed that membership in the LHSAA be available to public schools, and that private (non-public) schools seeking membership would have to re-apply. Welcome back to the future, 1920 style.
Passage of this amendment would remove private schools from the constitution and place them in a “special membership” (assuming that two-thirds of the executive committee approves their individual applications).
Those approved schools would then be placed in a classification based on their enrollment, with a 1.5 multiplier for co-educational schools and a 2.5 multiplier for single-gender schools, thus raising their classification above their actual enrollment.
Pro: It allows private schools to form their own organization but still be able to join the LHSAA and be under some of its umbrella of benefits.
Con: Private schools would not have the same representation.
As a final salvo over the bow of former executive director Henderson, who now runs a small, private institute that provides special educational needs to students with dyslexia and dyslexia-related learning differences in grades 1-12, the executive committee offers this constitutional amendment: “Any/all former/previous executive directors of the LHSAA are indefinitely ineligible to serve in any capacity as a board member on the executive committee and/or sub-committee.”
Pros? It removes any possibility of bias and/or ulterior motives that may be held for any reason by former executive directors. It also removes the former executive director from influencing any and all duties of the executive committee.
Was that revenge for Henderson’s tireless effort to flood the agenda with items on behalf of the LSA?
Should be an interesting 2020. Happy New Year!