You mad, bro?
LHSAA Commissioner Eddie Bonine has gone on the offensive. Bonine took to the Baton Rouge radio airwaves Wednesday morning and later told The Advocate that he’s “pissed … off” at the state’s officials association for threatening to strike if a pay raise for all sports isn’t passed before football season begins next month.
Well, you know what, I’m pissed off, too.
Full disclosure: I’m not a football official, but I referee high school basketball games and also umpire high school baseball. I don’t sit on any local or statewide committees or have much say in the matter, but I’m sick and tired of the stunts pulled each year by the LHSAA.
There’s way too much history for me to rehash here, but officials’ pay has been a major issue for all six years I’ve been officiating. (Here’s a very detailed timeline of what’s led to this impasse.)
Bonine has resorted to the hallow excuse that “it’s about the kids.” That’s an easy card to play in the hopes of winning the battle of public opinion. But this situation isn’t about the kids. It’s about being professional, and for quite some time now, the LHSAA hasn’t been.
The bottom line is this is about money and respect for high school officials across the state. Basketball officials are woefully underpaid — at $40 for the highest certification, that’s tied for last in the country. A $5 raise was voted down in January, the latest call to action for officials, that would have given us sole possession of the 49th spot.
While it is about money — this is a part-time profession for most of us — it’s also about respect. I wasn’t at the LHSAA meeting in January, but I have it on good authority that the principals not only voted down the pay raise but they then applauded their decision, as if to say take that. Bonine has admitted as much himself.
It’s clear that basketball officials have zero respect from the state’s principals, and frankly, I’m fed up with it. We provide a service that is vital and necessary, and we deserve adequate compensation and respect.
There are a number of ways to address this situation. Bonine’s avenue has been to ask for patience. He says he agrees with the pay raises and wants to work to get them done. But it’s going to take time. We’ve heard all of that before. We’ve been given promises — the previous commissioner, Kenny Henderson, also advocated for the pay raises, which were recommended by the LHSAA’s executive committee, and assistant commissioner Keith Alexander has been a continued proponent for officials in Louisiana — and those promises have turned into lies.
We will wait no longer. This situation should have been remedied years ago. We had a work stoppage in basketball a few years back. It led to promises and a minor pay raise. Many of those promises never came to pass.
When the LHSAA voted down the last raise in January, I was ready to walk out again. Honestly, I didn’t want to work. I wanted to take a stand immediately. But cooler heads prevailed. Our state board, the LHSOA (Louisiana High School Officials Association), came up with a measured and reasonable plan for pay raises across all sports.
Bonine says that plan, which calls for local officials associations to contract individually with schools and for officials to become true independent contractors, violates LHSAA rules. He’s technically correct, but there’s no reason — none, whatsoever — why those bylaws can’t be amended moving forward. The LHSAA could call a special meeting next week and vote, but the principals don’t want to do that.
So we’re taking a stand. Football officials all across the state have stated publicly they won’t work this fall without a pay raise. (Lake Charles is the only area I’ve seen that hasn’t said it will go on strike.) We haven’t met as a group for basketball or baseball, but personally I support them and am willing to do the same.
That doesn’t mean that I don’t want to call. I love officiating. I want to officiate. I’m preparing to officiate. But it’s past time for the LHSAA to show it supports and respects the role that we play in Louisiana high school sports.
The ball’s in your court, guys. If the lights are off on Friday nights this fall, you only have yourselves to blame.
Bret H. McCormick is a producer for The Town Talk and Gannett Louisiana. Connect with him on Twitter.