Making the Split: Public, private now separate in Louisiana football

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Drastic change is coming to Louisiana prep football.

Most local coaches are not pleased with the radical moves about to take place.

Louisiana high school principals voted 206-119 in favor of proposal No. 18 on Jan. 25 at the LHSAA’s annual convention.

Proposal No. 18 is a motion that will separate Louisiana prep football’s postseason play – dividing brackets based on whether a school is “non-select” (public) or “select” (non-public, charter, university lab or magnet).

Weeks removed from the vote, the controversial topic is still drawing the ire of many local coaches (both public and private) who think the LHSAA is making a mistake with the change.

“I don’t think this solves our problem,” Patterson High School football coach Tommy Minton said. “At best, I think this just shifts the problem around. … I don’t know what we’re really accomplishing with this besides hurting a lot of innocent schools who are in the crossfire.”

“I’m not happy with it – I’m actually quite upset,” Central Catholic football coach David Fuhrer added. “We don’t want this and we don’t think anything good will come from it. I don’t know how it will affect us because it’s being done without a plan.”

Details regarding exactly what proposal No. 18 will do are still unclear and will be decided in coming weeks at future meetings.

That vague, fuzzy picture is a large source of a lot of the coaches’ ire – no one is sure exactly how this thing is going to look.

Initial proposals say that non-select schools will remain in five classifications that will be classified from 1A-5A – much like the structure in place currently.

For select schools, two separate classifications are expected to be created during postseason play with 1A and 2A select schools competing for one state championship and 3A-5A select schools competing for another.

This would bring the number of total Louisiana state champions in football from five to seven.

Fuhrer said he wishes a more specific plan would have been laid out before voting took place.

He said it’s always dangerous to vote on an idea before knowing all of the ways to execute the idea.

“There’s no plan,” Fuhrer said. “How will we be seeded in the playoffs? What will determine that seed? Nobody has a clue right now because there’s no plan in place. It was just voted on and it was done without knowing what this means. What this is going to do is it’s going to punish a whole bunch of schools because of the actions of a handful of schools.”

Fuhrer’s statement about an unfair situation was echoed repeatedly throughout the Tri-parish coaching carousel.

The same two names came up with everyone surveyed: John Curtis Christian Academy and Evangel.

For decades, the two private schools have dominated Louisiana prep football – winning multiple state championships.

For years, the two schools have had their reputations battered and bruised in the court of public opinion by opposing coaches who alleged the schools recruit players into their program to achieve success.

Minton stopped short of saying the word “recruiting” in regards to the powers, but he did state that the numbers don’t add up in regards to some private school’s successes.

“There’s something seriously wrong when a school with 300 students like John Curtis can win the national championship,” Minton said. “There’s schools in Texas and Florida with 3,500 kids, but little ol’ John Curtis wins the national championship? That will show you right there that they are not operating in the true spirit of a private school.

“Almost everyone there is on an athletic scholarship – a full ride to play football. That’s a problem.”

Frustrated by years of losing to the private powers, the proposal was spearheaded in an effort to “level the playing field.”

“This was done by a lot of public schools who maybe lost a big game or lost a few kids to the select schools who are being questioned,” South Lafourche football coach Dennis Skains said.

But now that it’s passed, many believe the playing field is more unbalanced than ever and the good are being penalized for the so-called bad.

The biggest losers in this change, according to everyone asked, are select schools who operate by the rules.

In our area, we have five classified select schools – E.D. White, Vandebilt, Houma Christian, Covenant Christian and Central Catholic.

Instead of competing against only schools with 3A or 4A enrollments, E.D. White and Vandebilt will now have to compete against programs the likes of 5A powerhouses Rummel and Jesuit – schools double and triple their size.

Central Catholic, Houma Christian and CCA will now have to compete against private schools with 2A enrollment.

“How is that fair?” Skains said. “The majority is paying the price for the few schools who act the wrong way. … Take E.D. White. I believe they do things the right way. I know their coach – I’ve met him several times and I’ve spoken to him several times. He seems like a very legitimate guy. Now, he’s going to have to go and play these bigger schools. He called me before the vote and he said, ‘Coach, I’ve never recruited a day in my life.’ I think the vast majority are like that. I think it’s the good paying for the bad.

“It’s a shame for an E.D. White. It really is. What’s your mentality going into the season if you are them? Most schools go into every season with the belief that we can do anything we put our minds to if work hard enough. Now, if you’re the coach of E.D. White or a smaller school – what do you say to your kids? What do you say when you really feel deep down inside that even if you’re the best football team you can possibly ever have, you probably don’t even have a shot at this thing? That’s a shame. That really is a shame.”

Instead of the radical overhaul, local coaches said the LHSAA should have instead pointed the finger at itself and fixed its own problems.

Minton said the Louisiana governing body could eliminate all of its problems if it just better enforced its rules.

The Lumberjacks’ coach added that once separated, the problem will get worse because all of the select schools will try and imitate John Curtis and Evangel’s success.

One of the schools Minton said he believes is already doing so is Houma-based Covenant Christian, which is run by former Evangel assistant coach Blyght Wunstell.

CCA has never been issued with an LHSAA violation since joining the organization last year. Prior to joining, they were a member of Louisiana’s Christian Athletic Association and were not subject to the same rules as the LHSAA.

“It starts with two schools and everybody talks about two schools – Evangel and John Curtis,” Minton said. “Well now you’ve got a guy at Covenant Christian who coached at Evangel and he keeps talking about wanting to make Covenant Christian into the Evangel of the South. Well he’s just blatantly out there recruiting kids from Evergreen and everything.

“If any investigator went into that school whatsoever, they could drop the hammer on them,” Minton contended. “But the LHSAA makes it so hard to have an investigation like that. … It’s spreading to other schools now. Calvary Baptist is as bad as Evangel now. To me, the LHSAA is a big enough organization to hire an enforcement agency to get its problems solved without having to change its whole damn association.”

Wunstell was called this past week to respond to Minton’s claim, but calls were unreturned at press-time.

Skains shied away from labeling any schools who may be violating rules, but he quickly added that he hears rumors all of the time and he “doesn’t doubt” that some schools are acting in ways that violate LHSAA rules.

He said he wishes the LHSAA would tighten its transfer rules to make sure kids live in the correct zones throughout an entire school year.

“It should be a really, really painstaking and aggravating process for a kid to transfer schools and remain eligible,” Skains said.

But while many lamented the rules, at least one local coach doesn’t mind.

Ellender football coach Terry Washington has been a coach at both select and non-select schools in his career.

He said at the prep level, he welcomes any opportunity to reward as many teams as possible.

He added that the new system will create more playoff teams and more total playoff games – a formula that will generate revenue.

For a program that has struggled in the past, more opportunities are good for Ellender.

“I see both sides of it,” Washington said. “I was at Jeanerette High School when John Curtis was in 2A and we knew before the year started who the state champion was going to be. That’s not fun. So I can see both sides of it. But I just think now, more teams will have an opportunity and I think that’s a good thing for our sport.

“And for a program like ours that hasn’t enjoyed as much success lately, it’s definitely a good thing for Ellender High School.”

Washington’s beliefs are in the minority among the locals.

As coaches wait for finalized plans, anger still spews about the split heading toward prep football.

“I’m very upset,” Fuhrer said. “I know it happened a few weeks ago now, but I still feel very strongly about it. I don’t think it’s going to help.

“I’m very disappointed and quite angry at a lot of the public schools that voted for this,” Skains added. “Like Destrehan. They were one of the schools who spear-headed this. They just got done with a run that saw them make the Superdome three years in a row. How long ago was that? Six or seven years ago?

“The system wasn’t broken then when they were on top, but it’s drastically different now when they’ve had a couple rough years? … I just don’t think we needed this. There’s a winner and a loser in any deal. I just worry there will be more losers than winners.”

Vandebilt Catholic quarterback Elijah McGuire (left) breaks an arm tackle from a Terrebonne defender during a scrimmage. The Terriers are a select school, while the Tigers are non-select. Thanks to new LHSAA rules, the two schools will be unable to compete against one another in the playoffs, as the Louisiana high school sports governing body now separates the schools in postseason play.