(BATON ROUGE) — “It is as if we are watching an organization self-destruct,” Assistant Principal and football coach Joe Dickens said following the vote that would change high school sports in the state of Louisiana.
Jan. 28-29 saw the decision by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) at its annual conference to expand the select/non-select playoff system to softball, basketball, and baseball due to a vote by statewide principals.
“Once we get to the playoffs,” Athletic Director Craig Ketelsen said, “we will play only schools who have select enrollment, that can choose their students.”
Ketelsen attended the conference with Principal Trevor Watkins. Dickens says that the move, which is effective for the 2016-2017 season, was one that was flawed from the start, and one that needs to be fixed.
“When (the executive committee) came up with the select and non-select playoff split,” Dickens said, “they violated their own constitution and realized they had done it incorrectly, so they went back and retroactively passed a law that says it was OK. Because we’re a minority in the LHSAA system, we got out-voted again. I just don’t understand why there’s so much ill will towards private and Catholic education.”
Dickens points out that there are many flaws and stereotypes involved with the decision, some of which have no basis in truth.
“The reality is, private schools really don’t recruit,” Dickens said. “It’s all misnomer. Parents just want to send their kids to what they perceive is the best place and the best opportunity for their children. We just get good kids because their parents want their kids in our schools.”
Hypocrisy played a large role in the vote according to both Dickens and Ketelsen.
“They want us to play in their districts, they want our fans to show up because they enjoy the gate money and the fact that our fans… show up to events. If you don’t want to play us in the playoffs, you shouldn’t be willing to take our gate money during the regular season. Don’t be a hypocrite,” Dickens said. “They think they’re doing the right thing, but they’re tearing the organization in half. There’s the potential that select schools will walk and form their own organization.”
Ketelsen acknowledged this possibility and highlighted it as one that has credence to come to fruition.
“Three years ago, when football (split into select and non-select playoffs), there was a group that formed a committee to (discuss splitting off into a different athletic association),” Ketelsen said. “That group is meeting again, and they are discussing that option.”
The split’s main problem is not the fact that its legality is questionable or that it will affect logistics, however. Ketelsen says that the very nature of the sport may have been shaken.
“I am a big believer in competition,” Ketelsen said. “My father was a public school teacher throughout his whole career, (and) I don’t see a difference between select kids and non-select kids. I would suggest that if you asked the athletes, they would want to play each other and… they would not think that one group of athletes has an incredible advantage over the other.”
St. Paul’s athletes agree, and say that the decision comes with pros and cons.
“I feel like it’s going to be easier for us now to win a championship, because I know we’re better than most Catholic schools,” sophomore basketball player Devonte Allen said, “but I always want to win in the best way possible.”
Baseball’s split will change the landscape of teams on the postseason schedule. Teams that the Baseball Wolves have rarely met will now be the items of focus for the coaches and players to prepare for.
“We don’t really get to (play Catholic school teams) much,” Senior baseball player Blake Locicero said. “I personally like the standard they have now, but we can’t control it, obviously. We’re gonna play whoever we have to play.”
The largest scale version of this effect may have not yet even come into play, according to Ketelsen.
“There was an amendment put on the floor to split every sport in the LHSAA that was not accepted due to procedure,” Ketelsen said. “That may come up next January, so it may not be long before every sport in the state is split into two divisions for playoffs.”
Ketelsen recommends that the best solution may be to get back to basics, and not implement any kind of split or augmented playoff system at all.
“I don’t think that there’s a way to legislate what some people would call fair play,” Ketelsen said, “because, when it comes down to it, the parents are going to look for the best opportunity for their kids. I think the school principals want to have complete control over every kid in their school district, and I believe that’s a fundamental thinking problem.”
Coming clean and starting fresh in a system that promotes equality is Ketelsen’s prerogative going forward.
“It’s a horrible example that we as adults are not practicing what we preach at all,” Ketelsen said. “We say we want inclusiveness, we say we want everybody to get along, yet we are separating kids, and I believe strongly that… the kids do not want to be separated.”
“It’s a shame, because it’s just not the right thing,” Dickens said. “The right thing is for all schools to be together.”