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A look at the split in Louisiana's high school football playoffs - KTBS.com - Shreveport, LA News, Weather and Sports

A look at the split in Louisiana's high school football playoffs

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SHREVEPORT, La -

For the first time ever, the high school football playoffs in the state of Louisiana are split in to select and non-select schools.  With the playoffs underway, the state is now swimming in uncharted waters.  Instead of five champions being crowned next month in New Orleans, there will be nine, the usual five for 5-A through 1-A and four new divisions of private schools. 

The new playoff system is the end result of a battle which took place behind the scenes for years.  Many public school principals were unhappy at what they saw as an unlevel playing field.  With Evangel and John Curtis winning 38 state championships in the last 40 years LHSAA members voted last January to end 90 years of tradition.  Public schools are now playing only public schools in the playoffs.

Former LHSAA Commissioner Tommy Henry fought the proposed split for years when he was in office.  " I think it was a mistake to split the association.  In Louisiana we team our kids to live together, work together, play together..citizens of this state.  To take one group and just segregate them and discriminate against them and put them over here because you belong to these type of schools, you can't play with us. That's wrong I think. " Henry went on to say, " I know public school principals don't like to hear the word segregate, but that's exactly what it.. you can't paint it any other color."

Airline Head Coach Bo Meeks, whose school plays in the tough Louisiana District 1-5A, which includes C.E. Byrd says, "Select, non-select, it doesn't have much effect in 5-A, I hate it for Byrd that they play in select, but overall it's not a big effect."  Byrd head coach Mike Suggs says he agrees, "When you're in 5-A you're going to line up and play a quality opponent every week.. we're going to play where they tell us to play and try to win."

On the public school side, the split allowed a team like Captain Shreve to get one more game it would not have played otherwise.  "Without the split, we're not in, so absolutely it's benefited us," says Captain Shreve head coach Richard Lary. "I don't think anyone who wins the title won't take the trophy because it was watered down."

Captain Shreve was 1-4 in district play, 3-7 overall and made it in. The Gators wound up seeded 31 out of 32 in 5-A and faced parkway in the playoffs.  But on the private school side, every team got in regardless of record, several teams got first round byes and classes 3-A and 4-A had to be combined just to fill out the brackets.

North DeSoto head coach Scott Abernathy says "I just think it waters down everything.  We're not for it.  I wish, instead of looking at public and private schools, they'd look at the kids..  But we're going to work as hard as we can and line up wherever they tell us to play and get after them."

First year Evangel head coach Byron Dawson adds, "You've been doing a routine for years, now it's different and you can't help but wonder "what if" you played the other teams?"

Nine teams will have trophies declaring state championships, but none of them will ever know if they really were the best.  And it's not likely this bell can be unrung now.

 " I'd be surprised if you don't see it in other sports," says the former LHSAA commissioner henry. " I always said, if the football coach at a school got the mumps the basketball coach would want to get the mumps. Because he wanted the same things the football coach had. That's the way it is. That's the reality of it. "  Henry now believes football will just be the beginning. " So what will happen.. is you're gonna have all kinds of different divisions and competitions passed next year in January.  I wish there was some way to put Humpty Dumpty back together again, but I don't know that there is."

What started as a way to try to level the football playoff playing field for public schools may well become the opening of a Pandora's Box with several unintended consequences.

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