LHSAA vote splits football playoffs



Brent St. Germain and Chris Singleton

Sports Editor and Staff Writer

Private and public schools will compete in separate football playoffs and championships under a major change approved Friday.

Public-school principals have pushed for the change for years, saying they are at an unfair disadvantage against private schools, which can recruit players from a wide area. In contrast, public teams are limited to students who live within their school's enrollment districts, usually neighborhoods close to campus.

Schools overseen by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association voted 206-119 Friday to establish the separate playoffs for the football season that begins this fall.

No other sports will be affected.

All private and a handful of public schools listed as "select admission" will compete separately from traditional public schools in the state football playoffs and championships.

Locally, Covenant Christian, Houma Christian and Vandebilt Catholic in Houma and E.D. White Catholic in Thibodaux will compete in the select group.

The rest of the area's high schools — all of them public — will be categorized as "non-select."

Area high schools were split on the measure with an 8-5 vote against it. Here's how they voted:

For: Central Lafourche, Ellender, H.L. Bourgeois, St. James and South Terrebonne.

Against: Assumption, Covenant Christian, E.D. White, Houma Christian, South Lafourche, Terrebonne, Thibodaux and Vandebilt.

‘A LONG TIME COMING'

Vandebilt football coach Brad Villavaso said he wasn't surprised by the action.

"It was a long time coming," Villavaso said. "I knew eventually it would happen. It's not a surprise because you've been talking about this. It was inevitable, and now it's here. It doesn't really faze me that much. We'll just play in the playoffs against private schools or select schools now."

The proposal was initially proposed by Winnfield High School as a safety issue, as the school cited 140-pound players going up against 300 pounders.

The regular season football games will be played along current athletic district lines. But when the regular season ends, public schools and private schools will go into separate classifications for the playoffs. There will be two classifications for the select schools, done by admission numbers, and there will be the usual five classifications for public schools.

"We don't like it," E.D. White Athletic Director Preston LeJeune said. "We will be a Class 3A team playing against 5A schools in the playoffs, so you have the potential of a school like us with 300 boys playing against a Jesuit team with 1,100 boys or a Catholic High of Baton Rouge with more than 1,000 boys."

‘A LOT OF QUESTIONS'

Vandebilt Athletic Director Laury Dupont, who has coached at public and private schools, said there is still much to sort out, including how the playoff power-points system will be established and how to handle seven state championship games in two days at the Superdome.

"They just wanted a change," Dupont said. "I understand both sides of the issue. It's going to be interesting. It's going to be a different thing for us."

Dupont also raised concerns about the limited number of teams in the two select divisions.

"The numbers are a little off," he said. "We have schools that have 300 or 400 kids playing against a school that has another 100 kids more. I think it would be best with three select divisions."

Villavaso said the playoff change could cause some problems with travel, money and other long-term issues down the line. But, he added, the Terriers don't have an issue with playing against only private and select schools in the playoffs.

"It doesn't bother me," Villavaso said. "We just play ball and do what we do. There is no reason to cry about it. It is what it is."

Houma Christian Athletic Director and football coach Chuck Battaglia said the team will now face playing against a bigger school in the playoffs. The Warriors are a Class 1A school, but it has smaller, Class B enrollment numbers.

"It's not going to help a small school like us," Battaglia said. "The only positive side is that it is only for the playoffs, but I'll be curious to see how this will affect the association across the board in the long haul.

"To the benefit of a few schools, they are going to have a better opportunity to win a state championship. The reason we voted against was because of a few schools we felt like we shouldn't be competing against."

Assumption Athletic Director Sandy Fussell said the measure's supporters are missing what high school athletics are all about.

"It is not about winning championships," she said, "it's about competing and teaching student athletes about competition and the benefits from it."

LEVELING THE PLAYING FIELD

South Terrebonne Athletic Director Francis Labat said the school voted for the proposal, mostly because he feels private and select schools have an advantage over non-select schools.

"Something needed to be done," Labat said. "It is an advantage to those select schools who have an unlimited boundary to pick their students from. We were hoping that they would do it for all sports, but it is a step in the right direction."

Central Lafourche Athletic Director Travis Douglas said he and principal al Chris Kimball voted for it "thinking that it will give our kids a better chance of competing in high-school athletics."

But E.D. White's LeJeune said splitting teams into select and non-select divisions has been tried in other states, and in many cases, it has not worked.

"The association has been in existence for about 100 years or so, and you hate to see to see the organization drastically change," he said. "Once you split something up and it doesn't work, it's hard to put it back together. It's never right after that.

"It looks like the LHSAA we grew up with will not be the same."

The Courier and Daily Comet's news partner, WWL-TV, contributed to this story.