BATON ROUGE — High school principals and coaches on both sides of a controversial new prep football playoff system aired their opinions before a legislative panel for more than four hours Tuesday, but left with the same opinions they had before the meeting.
Louisiana High School Athletics Association members voted 206-119 in January to have separate playoffs for regular public schools that draw students from assigned attendance zones and “select” schools — private and parochial schools, charter schools and two schools with magnet programs (C.E. Byrd High School in Shreveport and Scotlandville Magnet in Baton Rouge) — that can draw students from other zones.
Sen. Page Cortez, R-Lafayette, chairman of the Senate Select Committee on High School Interscholastic Athletics, urged LHSAA members to try to settle their disagreement and not ask the Legislature to get involved.
“I would like the LHSAA to take care of this issue and do what is best for the children of this state,” he told a committee room packed with principals and coaches. He said he hopes the Legislature doesn’t get involved because “it’s 144 people, all with different opinions.”
After the 270-minute meeting, Cortez said that because he is “an eternal optimist, there’s always the possibility” that members can reach a compromise that would alleviate some of the hard feelings among some private school leaders who said they feel like they are being discriminated against.
Representatives of several “select” schools complained that they can’t compete with the top public schools. Some representatives of regular public schools complained that select schools have an advantage and can draw students from anywhere.
Much of the discussion skirted around the fact that two private schools — Evangel in Shreveport and John Curtis in Jefferson Parish — have been dominant in whatever district they competed.
Coaches from both schools acknowledged that they attract good athletes but pointed out their academic successes, as well.
“I am not going to apologize for being good at what I do,” said assistant football coach Johnny Curtis of John Curtis High School. “I’m going to take anybody who has $6,200.” His players come from several parishes in the New Orleans area.
Evangel Coach Phillip Dees said his players come mostly from Caddo and Bossier parishes but he had one player from Texas on the team this year. He said Evangel’s history of success has “inherent advantages” in drawing top players but he does not recruit. Also, players are expected to excel academically.