LHSAA: In need of change from top to bottom
By: SCOTT JOINER
This is the first of a two part series about the LHSAA and its leadership.
There was a time in New Orleans when you couldn’t go a block without a random guy trying to draw you into a game of three-card monte.
Those days are gone in the Crescent City, but the game is still played in the offices of principals, coaches and the board rooms of state organizations.
Let’s face it — the Louisiana High School Athletics Association has two sets of rules, in my opinion. One is for the public schools and another for the private schools.
That’s why I propose splitting the organization into a public league and a private league. Or, even better, get rid of the whole LHSAA and start from scratch with two separate organizations.
I realize my proposed districts and two divisions are flawed, but the current system is, too.
For instance, a private high school that has a middle school can have its eighth-graders in pads for spring practice in full contact. But, a public school with a middle school within its attendance zone and part of the public school system, is not allowed to have eighth-graders in pads. They can come to the schools and work out and the public school coaches can have contact with the junior high program, but they can’t suit up.
The rule gets even murkier when you have a private school in the same city as a public school.
The private school can have contact with its junior high athletes, but if a public school coach even glances at eighth-graders that are in its attendance zone — shame on you.
That makes me think they want the junior high athletes at public schools to have a chance to get recruited by those private schools in town, doesn’t it?
Digging even deeper, the public schools require their students to pass the Louisiana Educational Assessment Program to advance a grade, but the private schools? Nah. Whatever. Did they pass? Okie dokie, we’ll take your word for it — play ball.
With teams playing in the same “organization,” these confusing rules lead to principals acting like deputies of the LHSAA by constantly reporting local schools for minor and petty infractions as opposed to concentrating on their jobs as principals.
In Texas, the schools are split into the University Interscholastic League for public schools and the Texas Association of Private and Parochial Schools for private schools.
That takes care of the principals with nothing better to do than turning in their neighbors, but it doesn’t get rid of the recruiting issues.
Rick Cobia, current athletic director and head football coach at Taylor High School near Austin, said he’s seen first hand the recruiting that goes on at private institutions.
“When I was coaching at Cy-Fair, in northwest Houston, we would have private schools in that area that were offering kids scholarships,” Cobia said. “Those scholarships were money to pay for tuition to go to these private schools. They also promised these kids that because there were fewer kids participating, they would be able to compete.
“The competition in that school alone allows them to get playing time. That was attractive to a lot of kids,” he said. “The thing that was unattractive was the schedule. They would play bigger opponents or fewer games, not necessarily all the time. They may play a school with a team that only has 13 kids. Where as a high school in that area may have 80 kids on their team, I know we lost some kids to private schools in the sports of basketball and football. I don’t know of many in baseball.”
In most cases those scholarship athletes are the talented ones that don’t need the smaller student population to get playing time. Many of those talented scholarship players struggled in the public schools system but passed with flying colors in the private school, which raises questions of how much of a quality education the pricey tuition buys students — athletes or otherwise.
Or does it mean that the talented athletes get more access to extra credit and help than the average student?
“The governing of that type of classroom environment to gain credits, even participation requirements are a lot more lax than what (public schools) have to deal with,” Cobia said.
These glaring double standards and the constant changing of things like playoff set-ups makes me think of the days when the French Quarter was a three-card monte mecca.
Kenny Henderson is the executive director of the LHSAA, and he has an assistant. There are also three assistant executive directors, Rhonda McCullough, B.J. Guzzardo Jr. and Keith Alexander.
So who is in charge? Who’s on first? What’s on second?
When the cards begin to move faster you realize that two of the assistant executive directors have assistants.
Apparently Henderson needs six people under him to make decisions? Plus, the inner circle of executive committee members wields plenty of power on its own.
Good luck getting Henderson to answer a phone or return a call. It’s the same for Alexander and Guzzardo. Phone-phobia runs rampant at the offices in Baton Rouge and, in some cases, amongst the deputized principals on the executive committee.
Henderson could not be reached for comment on this story, but long time commissioner Tommy Henry shed light on how tough it is to get things done at the LHSAA.
“The last time they tried to divide it, it was a principal from Many,” Henry said. “He was up for dividing the classes and everything, but the constitution states that there must be five classes. You have to amend that first, to amend the rest of the constitution.”
Texas hasn’t changed its format for playoffs in years, but its amateur hour at the offices in Baton Rouge with changes every year, and sometimes several changes in a year. And, as was the case with a pay raise for officials, if its first vote fails on an issue, the LHSAA just keeps holding meetings and special votes until the right group of principals shows up to pass what the people in charge want passed.
“Both times I was opposed to dividing up the association for a lot of reasons,” Henry said. “First, I really believe we have a lot of private schools in our state. A lot of states don’t have that. It was meant for us to play together. I grew up in Alexandria, playing against private schools. I feel like with the number of private schools, about 18 percent of the schools are private, dividing the association didn’t feel like what the organization was all about.”
These days every sport comes into play when classification is discussed, but originally it was all about football.
“Classification was really set up for football, say what you want to, but it was,” Henry said. “When I was coming up coaching, only boys were used to classify schools because of football. … Then we started getting into girls’ sports. That was while I was still coaching. Then they started counting all students.”
The main argument against a split with the coaches I spoke with came in regards to competition and watering down of state titles. Safety is also an issue and a reason why big schools like West Monroe don’t play much smaller schools like Hanson Memorial.
“The thought was that it wasn’t safe for a school with 200 boys to play a school with 1,200,” Henry said. “Because it was such a disparity in the numbers. So when it went to boys and girls, that feeling still existed. When they added Class 5A, the selling point was that it would reduce the disparity even more.”
Much like my proposed divisions, the disparity in student population makes it a tough sell.
“With that philosophy in mind, you would only have like eight Class 5A non-public schools back when it was proposed,” Henry said. “You could hardly have a class. Then you would have to dip down to 4A and might have six or seven, maybe eight more. Then you would have to drop all the way down to 3A to have 27 schools in the top class non-public. Why is it safer for them to have that disparity and it wouldn’t be safer for public schools? If you put all of the football playing schools from 1A up in a class you would have a decent class, but even greater disparity.”
Check Monday's The Daily Review for the second part of this series that looks at the background of the people in charge at the LHSAA and the way things have changed since Henderson took over the job from Henry.
Louisiana Private School League
Division I (348 or more)
De La Salle
St. Michael Archangel
St. Thomas Aquinas
St. Thomas More
Catholic New Iberia
Division II (Less than 348)
MP Country Day
St. Martin’s Episcopal
Pope John Paul II
Capitol for Boys
Holy Savior Menard
Division II (Less than 348)
Pope John Paul II 344
Riverside Academy 314
Capitol for Boys 310
Holy Savior Menard 308
St. Helena Central 300
Calvary Baptist 277
Northlake Christian 254
Opelousas Catholic 238
Sacred Heart 234
MP Country Day 229
Westminster Christian 226
St. Martin’s Episcopal 220
Catholic P.C. 209
Christian Life 199
Cedar Creek 193
Ouachita Christian 190
Archbishop Hannan 189
Vermilion Catholic 184
Delhi High Charter 174
False River 171
Ascension Catholic 167
St. Edmund 162
Hanson Memorial 160
St. Frederick 146
Ecole Classique 144
Hamilton Christian 141
Central Catholic 140
St. John 138
St. Mary 132
Ascension Catholic 127
Ascension Episcopal 110
Houma Christian 102
Mt. Hermon 101
Crescent City 85
Division I (348 or more)
Catholic BR 2,050
Brother Martin 1,956
St. Amant 1,655
Archbishop Rummel 1,644
St. Paul’s 1,411
Archbishop Shaw 1,050
St. Augustine 1,050
St. Thomas More 1,050
Holy Cross 818
St. Michael Archangel 740
Vandebilt Catholic 721
Ben Franklin 657
Teurlings Catholic 654
St. Louis 647
E.D. White 585
Sarah Reed 578
Parkview Baptist 535
Lusher Charter 452
Loyola Prep 438
Notre Dame 436
De La Salle 425
St. Charles 422
St. Thomas Aquinas 396
Catholic New Iberia 394
Evangel Christian 387
John Curtis 348