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|LHSAA makes changes|
Longtime legendary Vidalia High football coach Dee Faircloth can only wonder what might have been years ago if the Louisiana High School Athletic Association had voted the same way then as they did Friday when they approved separate football playoffs based on select or non-select school status as it closed out its annual convention.
"I wish they had done that about 15 to 20 years ago," Faircloth said. "We lost a lot of playoff games to private schools. I didn't think this would ever happen because it's been such a battle and there have been hard feelings about it through the years. I'm really shocked this came about."
The LHSAA departed from more than 90 years of tradition in the ground-breaking move. LHSAA member-school principals voted 206-119 to have five football championships for its 242 nonselect or traditional public schools that will be based on school enrollment. Between 120 and 140 will be designated as select schools and will play in two football divisions, also based on enrollment.
Schools in enrollment classes 5A to 3A would be placed in Select Division I; 2A and 1A schools would fall into Select Division II. Select and nonselect schools will remain in districts together and play each other in the regular season. Proponents of the plan said it will add 59 schools to the football playoffs.
Some member principals and spectators lining the back of the room burst into applause when the roll call vote tally was announced. The vote concluded a general assembly meeting that lasted nearly three hours at the Crowne Plaza.
The new bylaw will go into effect this fall and will mark the first time the LHSAA has contested championship play in any way other than integrated enrollment-based classes.
"There is a lot of speculation that some private schools will jump to the MAIS (Mississippi Association of Independent Schools) but that would mean they would be traveling all over the place," Faircloth said.
Winnfield Principal Jane Griffin spearheaded the legislation. Griffin's proposal defines select schools as private schools, charter schools, full magnet schools, laboratory schools and dual-curriculum schools that draw at least 25 percent of their magnet component enrollment from outside a traditional attendance zone.
The Griffin proposal was one of two split-championship proposals, and three total classification proposals, considered at the end of the meeting agenda. A proposal from a year ago by former South Beauregard Principal Marlin Ramsey would have divided select and nonselect schools into separate championships for football and other major team sports.
The South Beauregard proposal failed to garner enough support to be taken off the table for consideration. An LHSAA executive committee proposal to classify football separately in five divisions and then classify all other sports in six classes also failed
Those decisions left the proposal for separate football championships to consider, and that led to an intense debate with passionate speakers on both sides of the issue.
Friday's meeting marked the third time the LHSAA has voted on some sort of split proposal. In 1998 and 2004, the membership rejected proposals that would have divided the LHSAA into entirely separate divisions for public and private schools.
"It wasn't fair that through the years we had a boundary line while private schools could go all over the place to get kids," Faircloth said. "We were right in the heart of that battle. The private schools could lose 20 kids, but come back just as strong the next year by picking from more students."
Block High head coach Benny Vault has lost four times to private schools in the playoffs.
"It needed to be done," Vault said. "If it doesn't work, we can go back to the old way. But I don't see why it wouldn't work. The biggest issue I had is that I have four coaches and we would play a Class A private school and they would have 11 coaches. I think this will increase our chances to advance farther into the playoffs."
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