A groundbreaking move by the Louisiana High School Athletic that splits high school football playoffs into select and non-select school status drew praise from both West Baton Rouge Parish football coaches.
Port Allen coach Guy Blanchard and Brusly coach Erik Willis believe the move will even the playing field between public and private schools.
“Obviously, we’re for it,” Willis said. “It was clearly not a fair playing field because the private schools were getting kids from places we couldn’t.”
Willis, a standout on the Plaquemine High School football team in the early 1980s, has seen the scenario from both sides of the fence. He coached several years at St. John, where he guided the Eagles to runner-up spots in Class 1A in 1998 and Class 2A in 2006.
“I felt this was something that should’ve been done long ago,” he said. “I even felt that way about it when I was at St. John, even though I’m still very proud of what we did there.
“The old system was a definite disadvantage for the public schools.” Willis said.
Blanchard believes the move was long overdue.
“For long, people have been tired of the same old thing,” he said. “They’re taking a positive step to get us close to parity like the NFL.
“There was an unfair advantage with the private schools, and if that wasn’t the case, we wouldn’t be where we are today,” Blanchard said. “It won by a resounding vote – it didn’t just ‘barely get by’. The people got tired of the unfair advantage.
“I think there were some great coaches and players in public schools who didn’t have the advantages the private schools have,” he said. “Private schools didn’t have to adhere to attendance zones, so they could pick and choose. And it wasn’t about religious education – it was about winning games. All of it revolved around victories and district championships.”
The system of separate divisions for private and public schools is tried and true in most other states, Blanchard said.
“Why does every other state in the union do it? If it didn’t work, why else would they do it?” he said. “I think the people who are against it oppose it either because they’re selfish or because they don’t completely understand what it’s all about.”
LHSAA-member school principals on a 206-119 vote approved a measure that will create five football championships for the 242 non-select (or public) schools, set in accordance to enrollment.
Approximately 140 non-select (or private) schools will compete in two playoff divisions, based on enrollment.
The schools from Classes 3A to 5A will compete in Select Division I, while the 2A and 1A schools would play in Select Division II.
The measure knocks down the walls of an integrated playoff system between public and private schools that has existed the entire 90-year history of the LHSAA.
Winnfield High School principal Jane Griffin pushed the legislation. She claimed the previous system did not allow all schools a fair chance at the championship.
The crux of the issue involved the private schools that were not forced to adhere to attendance zones mandated in the public school system.
The move also shed light on the practice of recruiting by parochial powerhouses such as Evangel, Ouachita Christian and John Curtis (which won its 25th state title and a 2012 national championship).
The move defines “select schools” as those with more than 25 percent of a student population that lives outside a traditional attendance zone.
Select schools include private schools, charter schools, laboratory schools and dual curriculum schools.
LHSAA principals proposed separate districts during conventions in 1998 and 2004, but failed on both attempts.
Blanchard believes the change will come with its share of difficulties, but he’s confident that the LHSAA will resolve those issues.
“It will come with some bumps in the road,” he said. “But people forget there have been bumps in the road the last ninety years of the LHSAA, and they’ve hammered them out along the way.”