Judgment day: LHSAA to vote public-private this week

Published 12:00 am Saturday, January 31, 2004

Already a man of many stories, Dee Faircloth can give you an earful about private schools in the LHSAA.

&uot;I can tell you a thousand stories about this stuff,&uot; the veteran head coach said.

It’s his experiences over the years &045; particularly in recent years &045; that’s got Faircloth and others in the LHSAA crying foul over how private schools have an edge over public schools in their ability to put a competitive team on the field.

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But there’s plenty more than Faircloth who are upset. Enough are in agreement to propose creating a new playoff system in all sports where public and private school state champions will be crowned.

Private schools, they say, have won state championships for too long. It’s time to make the playing field level.

&uot;It’s not a level playing field,&uot; Faircloth said. &uot;That’s the main complaint about the public and private schools. The year (Ouachita Christian) won the state championship, they had a quarterback from Delhi. Coach (Johnny Lee) Hoffpauir has a top 10 (baseball) team, and nine of those are private schools.

&uot;Last year he got beat by St. Fred’s, and the year before he lost to Christian Life. When I played Christian Life, they had nine black students. What does that tell you? One of those was Michael Clayton. I’m for the split, and it’s because of that.&uot;

It’s the same issue that threatened to drive a wedge between public and private schools in 1998. Then the proposal was to kick all private schools out of the LHSAA, a measure that failed soundly.

But this time the proposal being pushed by officials at Many High School to have a public and private playoff systems is gaining steam, and it’ll come up for a vote Wednesday down in Baton Rouge.

Discussions have been heated so far, and it should continue up until the vote is taken.

&uot;It kind of sneaked up on us,&uot; OCS principal Daniel Bristo said. &uot;When the letter came out from the LHSAA, I read it and said, ‘Will this ever end?’ It’s one of those snakes that raises its ugly head every now and then. It seems the more people talk the more people get mad about it.&uot;

The issue

It’s almost an age-old argument, especially one for the LHSAA since the organization has public and private schools co-existing, unlike organizations in Mississippi, Texas and Alabama.

The issue, however, has boiled over in recent years with the success of Evangel Christian Academy in Shreveport and John Curtis Christian School in River Ridge.

Both schools have become national powerhouses in football, winning state championships at the two highest classifications while reporting a Class 2A enrollment.

&uot;It’s hard for me to comprehend a school with 300-400 kids that can be in the semifinals or finals every year in football,&uot; Vidalia principal Rick Brown said. &uot;You’re going to have down years, and these schools aren’t having down years. Not to say public schools don’t do the same thing &045; there are ways around any rule &045; but it’s a lot easier for the private schools to recruit and get kids to come play for them than public schools. We’ve got to have verification that they live in our district.&uot;

It’s not just football anymore, Brown noted. Private schools are dominating the sports scene and have done so in the annual Picadilly Cup, a trophy awarded to schools with the best overall athletic programs each year.

It’s an issue that coaches thought was addressed back in 1998. In fact, some schools were found using ineligible players after agreeing to issue attendance zone for private schools.

The perception, Bristo said, is still there. He noted there seems to be more support for this than the 1998 proposal.

&uot;Our parents who are paying their taxes to send other people’s kids to public schools are paying another $4,500 to send their kids here,&uot; he said. &uot;What’s not fair? They’re paying for it. We have the same attendance zone at Ouachita Parish High School. They have 1,300 kids, and we’ve got 270. What’s even here?

&uot;If a kid comes from Bastrop or Farmerville, they have to sit out a year. We’re working around the clock, and we don’t have time to recruit. Look at our record &045; sometimes we wind, and sometimes we lose.&uot;

The proposal

Some coaches agree the issue has surfaced as a result of the vote taken last year to require schools wishing to play up to obtain permission from schools in that classification.

The proposal will go into effect for the next reclassification in 2005 and was mainly aimed at Evangel and Curtis.

If neither school gets approval to play up, both powerhouses will land in 2A with Vidalia, Ferriday and OCS.

&uot;Nobody in their right mind is going to vote for them to be in their classification,&uot; Brown said. &uot;They would love to go in the higher classification. By playing larger schools, they can make a $35-40,000 gate in one night. That’s our budget in one year.&uot;

Bristo argued the authors of the proposal, Many head football coach David Feaster and principal Norman Booker, are pushing the proposal to defend their school and district before Evangel drops down to 2A.

Booker and Feaster have toured the state along with LHSAA commissioner Tommy Henry discussing the proposal, an issue that’s been very heated at times.

Friday’s meeting in Lake Charles had Feaster questioning Henry as to whether his rebuttal was a personal attack on the Many coach.

&uot;They’d have to be in the same district as (ECA),&uot; Bristo said. &uot;That’s what I’m seeing. Am I right or wrong? I don’t know. Mr. Henry is our commissioner, and we need to respect that position. We need to approach him with respect, which didn’t happen. That really turned me off to that.&uot;

It’s not just schools in 2A who are sweating this thing out. Block head football coach and athletic director Chad Harkins forsees where both school lose prestige, forcing its enrollment to drop and the school lands in 1A with the Bears.

&uot;Evangel started out as 1A, and they might wind up in 1A again,&uot; Harkins said. &uot;Or you look at us and if we consolidate over here and go to 2A, I don’t want to play Evangel.

&uot;It’s just like this &045; I played three private schools (in the playoffs). If we went to the semifinals, I would have played four. I don’t mind. St. Mary’s is not Evangel, but they’re private. I do feel it’s a level playing field with private schools. It seems like it is &045; or maybe they don’t do as good a job of recruiting.&uot;

Will it pass?

Feaster is pitching the idea of having public and private state championship games.

There are no specifics on the table, and both sides agree it may be difficult to enforce. Some major revamping of the classification system would be needed since 248 of the 296 members of the LHSAA are public schools.

Some classifications have just eight private schools, but 2A has 15 &045;&160;not counting the two they’d receive in 2005.

Henry, however, predicts a flurry of lawsuits the LHSAA won’t win if the proposal passes, alleging the action is grounds for a discrimination suit that could lead to the courts dictating the association’s operations.

&uot;I haven’t gotten all the detais on everything,&uot; Brown said. &uot;Until we look at how it’s supposed to be set up, I really don’t have an opinion. Up front, it sounds like it’ll help us. (Henry) paints a very dark picture, an end-of-the-world-type thing. I think there’s an agreement that something needs to be done.&uot;

Faircloth said he was for the split in 1998 but is hesitant this time because no one knows what the consequences are. Feaster urged coaches and principals not to believe what they hear and accused those against the proposal of using scare tactics.

&uot;I think it’ll be a North vs. South issue,&uot; Faircloth said. &uot;North is predominantly Protestant, and South is predominantly Catholic. Most of their (private) schools are down there. I don’t know how it’s going to come out.&uot;

Henry predicts the Legislature and the courts will block it. Proponents, Bristo said, are using a split within the Tennessee Secondary Schools Activities Association as an example of how it could be done successfully.

That’s comparing apples and oranges, Bristo said. Allowing public and private schools to play during the regular season but kicking them out of the playoffs is &uot;like your girlfriend breaking up with you and saying, ‘I want you to hang around with me and my new boyfriend.’&uot;

&uot;Just because you don’t like what Evangel and Curtis are doing, don’t throw the baby out with the bath water,&uot; Bristo said. &uot;Can we all just go out and put what we’ve got on the field and have a good time with it? It’s a game &045; that’s all it is. Vidalia and Ferriday &045; we love playing those guys. We don’t want a few people tell us, ‘You can’t hang out with your friends anymore.’&uot;