When you find a successful coach, you find a guy that preaches “the fundamentals” of the game. When you find a person successful in life, you find a person that lives “the fundamentals” of life; Drive, Self-reliance, Patience, Passion, Communication and INTEGRITY! Honesty is the best policy for everything you do; integrity creates character and defines who you are! It is my belief that the entire association starting with the commissioner to the executive committee and to the members, need to ask themselves “how do we want people to view who we are as an Association?” This is why.
When Kenny Henderson and the LHSAA parted ways, Henderson left the organization in chaos. I could write for a long time about why Henderson was a disservice to the LHSAA and its student-athletes; girls basketball finals debacle in Hammond, moving the Top 24 all over the state with the finals in Ruston, breeching contracts that would financially cost the LHSAA over a $1,000,000 (that contract that Henderson signed was for longer than what the Executive Committee approved). Henderson was never available for comment and refused to take a stand on anything. However, Henderson who was Chairman of a committee formed in 2004 to study a proposed split of the association into public and private factions accomplished his agenda. Principal Jane Griffin, along with Steve Weber, proposed the split of the LHSAA and it passed. Change can be good, but with change challenges arise. The biggest problem with this change is that no one was there to meet those challenges. There was no one to turn to with answers because no one thought to look beyond the proposal if it passed. Wasn’t there a study on this concept?
Never hearing the results of this “study” that Henderson chaired, there was obviously not much research done other than the whispers behind Evangel and John Curtis’s back. Damage was done by the time Henderson became commissioner; but the success of these two schools created many discussions in the high school football community which probably prompted the study that Henderson chaired! However when you become commissioner of the LHSAA you have to put your personal agenda aside and do what is best for the student-athlete. Henderson’s lack of effort to keep things together was obvious; he was putting nothing aside for no one.
As time moved on Henderson made one mistake after another which was compounded by his lack of communication and presence. In a lot of instances it was the student-athletes that suffered from Henderson’s actions, just ask the St. Michael’s girls basketball team! Finally the executive committee had enough and a change HAD to be made.
With Henderson removed, the LHSAA’s future was back in the hands of Vic Bonnaffee and the Executive Committee! This is not a quote, but Bonnaffee indirectly said that for 20 years everyone seemed to have the answers but nothing ever changed. Let’s be honest, the politics and good ol’ boy network takes precedent and no one wants to be ostracized as “the bad guy”. The only way to change this vicious cycle is to go outside of the “norm” and bring in someone that has zero ties, zero motives and zero agenda other than to do his job which is to make decisions that is best for Louisiana’s student-athlete. Bonnaffee actually said “the LHSAA needs an individual who would be able to objectively look at the issues of the LHSAA and be able to take an approach that is effective and collaborative – a fresh look.” The individual they chose was Eddie Bonine!
No doubt that this hire would be historical due to the “State of the Union” of the LHSAA. When Bonine took the job he was well aware of the magnitude of his hire. Many candidates would shy away from this type of challenge; Bonine made it clear that he was ready for the challenge and vowed to put the student-athlete at the top of his priority list, “As your Executive Director, it’s my job to protect the integrity of high school participation in this state!”
To do this Bonine put a plan in place to find out all of the facts and he did this by visiting six cities in four days. In this fact finding mission I don’t believe any stone was left unturned. From superintendents to school administrators to head coaches, an open line of communication was established. Next order of business is to develop a task force from across the state to help give the LHSAA feedback on specific issues. There are more than 70 schools represented on this task force. Bonine sent out a request to individuals who might be interested in participating and received over 70 responses. No one was turned down. The number one issue Bonine heard from the task force meetings was that the LHSAA needs to enforce the rules at the school sites and when they are not followed, the hammer needs to drop! You have rules and you have consequences for violations of these rules. Bonine’s track record shows he is not afraid to enforce rules equally across the board as he did with some of the most well-known schools in Nevada. Consequently the LHSAA has a need and from his actions, Eddie Bonine can be a solution to that need!
This past football season Bonine made several rulings based 100% on the LHSAA handbook that was written long before his arrival. On October 30th the LHSAA found Byrd, Southwood and Huntington all to be in violation of the rule allowing student-athletes to take more than one athletic class during the semester. This can be found in black and white in Section 9 of the LHSAA handbook, cut and dry! The punishment is to be banned from post season play. Byrd was the only one of the three making the playoffs. Here has been and is my problem with the LHSAA; a rule that has been in place for 10 years was clearly broken but that didn’t seem to matter. The executive committee decided not to back their commissioner and overturned the ruling mentioning the penalty was “too harsh”. Too harsh, then why was it written? This excuse was obviously a smoke screen and the true reason it was overturned is because Byrd and its supporters had some political pull as well as some good ol’ boys on the executive committee. Do you remember when the “split” was passed the “select” side included magnet schools and then the following year magnet schools went to the “non-select” side? You guessed it, Byrd is a magnet school! Bottom line is in this particular instance, Bonine was trying to do what LHSAA members were asking him to do and uphold the rules and he gets overturned by the EC! It was at this point Mr. Bonine realized what he was up against. It obviously has nothing to do with right and wrong; it has to do with your connections and who you are whether or not you have to follow the rules in the LHSAA handbook. From what I know about Eddie Bonine he does not and will not apply rules based on the EC criteria. Mr. Bonine’s next opportunity to uphold the rules was during a quarterfinal playoff bench clearing brawl. The game was stopped with just under 2 minutes remaining and Amite was way ahead on the scoreboard. The problem is everyone but five players left the bench during the fight. That is important because the LHSAA rule is “players who leave the bench during a fight are automatically given a one game suspension”. Therefore everyone was ruled suspended by Bonine giving Amite ONLY 5 players to play in the following week’s semi-final game, which meant they had to forfeit. Of course appeals were filed, BUT this time the EC upheld Bonine’s decision setting a major precedent for Bonine and his effort to get the LHSAA on the right track!
Before I talk about his most recent ruling, I want to say this. I have had the opportunity to get to know Eddie Bonine during this past football season. When you talk with him you will notice very quickly he is 100% about the student-athlete. He has no political alliance nor is he in anyone’s “good ol’ boy” network. In a lot of ways, such as the Byrd ruling, he stands on an island all alone. It was the good ol’ boy network and the political alliances of Byrd that influenced the Executive Committee to undo Byrd’s penalty. It is these same good ol’ boy networks and political alliances of EVERY school that has put the LHSAA in the predicament it’s in. But, the Executive Committee members are to blame as well. If you cannot sit on a committee and make a decision solely based on facts, do us all a favor and resign! The student-athletes of this state depend on you to make fair decisions based on the LHSAA’s handbook and not based on your personal relationships and agendas.
The latest announcement by Bonine indicated that the split could be null immediately. The opinion states that the LHSAA did not follow the constitution while passing the split because it did not go through the executive committee for approval before the decisive vote! After reading this, Bonine turned to the LHSAA attorney for guidance which led to Friday’s press conference. For me this sends the message that not only do the schools of the LHSAA have to comply by the rules, but also that the LHSAA itself is going to lead by example!
Side note, it has been said that this is Bonine manipulating the system to allow the LHSAA to assume total control. Others are saying this has all been setup and the LHSAA gets what it wants and goes back to five classes. You know what, that makes sense IF Bonine was in a good ol’ boy network and had personal agenda’s to push. Bonine will not play favor to schools based on who you are and what you have done, because he is not from here and does not care. What he does care about are the student-athletes of this state. He cares about if you follow the rules or not. He cares that Vic Bonnaffee hired him to do a job and he wants to accomplish it!
Finally, you can only imagine the amount of people that are angry with the LHSAA’s latest announcement. Obviously most of these people are proponents of the split. The ones that are angered the most are no doubt the ones with the most egg on their face; for instance Winnfield principal and co-author of “the split”, Jane Griffin. Dr. Griffin finally has a chance to own up to the poorly thought out plan to split the state. She tried to create a level playing field and did not. St Frederick got beat by 60 in the Dome! Whether “select” vs “non-select” or “select” vs “select” the kids on the losing end of that beat down feel the same regardless of what school they attend. Dr. Griffin as well as the other Executive Committee members, who may have supported the split in 2013, must be accountable and understand their idea did not “level the playing field”. More importantly, everyone involved needs to understand making it right for the student-athlete should be the number one priority, without them there is no LHSAA.
When Bonine was first hired he made the comment “A lot of people are builders. This is maintenance. Not a lot of people like that but I do!” Bonine commented to the people of Louisiana, the athletes and members of the LHSAA that he would take this job very serious. He has traveled the state, created a task force, enforced the rules of the LHSAA and has taken all the necessary steps to turn things around. When this type of process takes place (change), there is resistance. People are emotional and tempers flare. That is life! But remember Bonine has proven by his actions to be part of the LHSAA’s solution. Before his arrival, that solution looked very, very far away. Having five classes may not be the 100% solution, but it is better than the past three football seasons. Change is always difficult, but not when that change is beneficial to the student-athletes of this state and I guarantee you as long is Eddie Bonine is commissioner that will be the direction of the LHSAA!