NATCHITOCHES — While Natchitoches Central and St. Mary’s are on opposite sides of the fence based on classification, they are on the same side when it comes to the LHSAA split.
NCHS football coach Brandon Helms, St. Mary’s football coach Corwyn Aldredge and St. Mary’s principal Jacque Horton headed a three-person panel Tuesday at the Louisiana Sports Hall of Fame and Northwest Louisiana History Museum with an informative discussion about the select/non-select split that will take care in all sports beginning in 2016-17.
“When you are a member of such a large organization like the LHSAA, your vote is your voice,” Horton said. “Unfortunately, when you are a member of a school that has been defined as a select school, there are not that many of us that are part of the LHSAA and frankly all of us put together don’t make up for the better third of the LHSAA membership. So, it’s difficult to express those feelings when we’re not in a public forum. It’s very much appreciated.”
In the first three seasons of the split in football, the Tigers made their first appearance in the LHSAA quarterfinals in 27 years in 2013 and then followed that up with a run to the semifinals in 2014 and the Division IV finals last year — both firsts since 1980.
While Horton admitted that the split has benefited the Tigers with three consecutive deep runs in football, travel issues still loom, especially with the split going to other sports.
St. Mary’s has had to travel at least a 100 miles for playoff road games in the last three years.
“Natchitoches is very unusual and there’s not many (select) schools in North Louisiana, so it makes it more difficult,” Horton said. “When you have those large select schools in South Louisiana, they have more of a pull with what they’re doing and what they’re saying. Frankly, it’s very difficult for those of us in North Louisiana in purposes of travel. Most of that attention is focused on those that are below I-10, so it can be very difficult.”
In Class 5A, there are not many select teams aside from the seven “Catholic League” schools from District 9-5A, St. Paul’s, Catholic of Baton Rouge and Evangel — the lone select school north of I-10, which causes a smaller bracket than other classes and divisions.
“In 5A, (select schools) win three games to win a state championship and in Class 1A, (non-select) schools have to win five,” Helms said. “What’s level and fair about that? I think that we have to get back to an area we’re there’s more than an 11-team bracket or a 16-team bracket. If we’re going to put a 32-team bracket together, we need to have 32 teams that deserve to be in the playoffs.”
Helms also brought up the lack of competitive title games without the split.
In the boys and girls’ state tournaments, there were the same amount of championship games (three) decided by more than 15 points as there were games decided by fewer than five points.
“This year with it not split, you had basketball games that were 25-point blowouts in the championship game,” Helms said. “Now, you’re going to dilute it down even more and you’re going to have to do it over four weeks instead of two weeks. People are going to have to choose when they’re going, so you’re going to start to see attendance go down and that affects the revenue.”
Overall, both Helms and Horton thought this panel was a productive one and suggested that more should happen across the state.
“I wish we had more things like this statewide, because we’re able to voice our opinions of what’s happening,” Helms said. “We all have a lot of the same issues and that just goes to show you that if we just hunker down, go to the table and each make some concessions, we can get this thing right.”
Horton added, “I’m very thankful that we have a great relationship with the public schools in Natchitoches, but we’re a small community, we have to coexist. We’ve coexisted for quite some time; I don’t think that that’s the case in some of the larger cities. I think that there’s a great deal of animosity.”