After a two-month search, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) has its new executive director.
To get the man they wanted, the athletic governing body had to look more than 1,800 miles to the west – all the way to the desert flatlands of Nevada.
The LHSAA announced on the last day of its 2014 prep football season that Eddie Bonine is now the man in charge of running shop within the oft-criticized association that oversees prep athletics around the Pelican State.
Bonine lands in his post after holding the same position in the Nevada Interscholastic Activities Association – that state’s version of the LHSAA.
He replaces Kenny Henderson, who resigned from his post in October after several years as executive director.
Bonine was the only one of five finalists without any previous experience working for the LHSAA on his resume.
“I’m excited to get to work,” Bonine said. “I think the structure in place is very good – that’s a credit to some of the fine people who have come before me. With that said, we’re going to maintain what we need to maintain and do the things that are necessary to keep the LHSAA where it needs to be.”
Throughout the two-month search process, some scoffed at the idea of bringing an outsider into the LHSAA executive director position – a job that has long been held by a person with a career of experience in Louisiana prep athletics. But LHSAA President Vic Bonnaffee said it was time the organization brought a pair of foreign eyes to its table to examine some of the issues going on within the state.
Bonine is foreign to Louisiana high school athletics, but not to Louisiana itself. The incoming athletic official’s wife Bonnie is from Louisiana – the two actually met on Southern soil. Bonine said in the coming weeks, he’s going to take “countless hours” driving to all reaches of the state to field various ideas and to meet coaches, athletic directors and principals throughout the state.
Bonnaffee said Bonine’s credentials were a plus, adding that he’s done an admirable job in his career working with Nevada’s high school system.
“The question (was asked), ‘Why an outsider?’” Bonnaffee asked at the press conference in the Mercedes-Benz Superdome to introduce Bonine. “…At this time in my life when I had to cast a vote, I felt it was very important to bring somebody in who had national exposure – an individual who had various experience in leadership and administration. (We needed) an individual who would be able to objectively look at the issues of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association and be able to take an approach that would be objective and qualified and collaborative and give us a fresh outlook.”
The reason for a fresh set of eyes is because many around Louisiana feel that there are a lot of things in LHSAA dealings that could need some improvement.
The climate that Bonine is stepping into is tense – and that’s putting it mildly.
During Henderson’s final years, Louisiana underwent drastic changes, most notably the public/private split that has taken place the past two prep football seasons – a drastic move that is an incredibly polarizing topic among athletic officials around the state.
Meetings will be held throughout 2015 to determine whether to tweak, abolish or add more dimensions to the split in the future athletic seasons.
A poll of local prep coaches and athletic directors would seem to indicate that locally coaches are in favor with abandoning the split and making things the way that they used to be – where public and private schools competed with one another throughout postseason competition.
Bonine didn’t tip his hand in either direction during his introductory press conference, attempting to deflect mentions of the split as best as he could with mostly generic answers centered on how important it is that he studies the state’s issues in the coming weeks.
He said that he’s spoken to Henderson many times throughout his tenure, touting that prep sports executive directors are a “small community,” and that “we all keep in touch.”
“We’ve spoken. I’m somewhat familiar with the things that have happened here,” Bonine said. “Whatever we do, I think we’re going to have to approach it with an open mind so that we can resolve it in the best way for our organization.”
But while in Nevada, Bonine had to deal with a highly publicized private school situation, as well.
In 2011, headlines swarmed around Nevada private school Bishop Gorman – a dominant prep school that excels in multiple sports throughout the western state.
After hearing complaints from principals and athletic officials for years, Bonine explored removing the school from the NIAA by forming a committee to explore the topic of sending private schools into their own classifications.
But after the committee recommended a separation, Bishop Gorman took the proceedings to court which caused the NIAA to cool on its efforts.
Bishop Gorman remains a member of the NIAA today.
It is not yet known what Louisiana prep schools can read into the Bishop Gorman situation when it pertains to the future of our state’s high school athletics.
But Bonine said he’s ready to work and show that he can do a quality job.
A quality job is exactly what is needed, as the state’s athletic climate is as tense as it’s ever been.
“Are there challenges? Sure,” Bonine said. “But we think that collectively, we can answer the questions that need to be answered and move ourselves forward. This is a great state, and we have a lot of great people here. We’ll get this done.”