This is a sincere thank you to Mr. Eddie Bonine.
The Executive Director of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, and his support staff, deserve a 60,000-capacity stadium filled with praise, accolades and appreciation for what the LHSAA was able to accomplish this week up in Natchitoches.
This was a feat which seemed dishearteningly impossible only a few months ago.
The LHSAA wrapped up its annual Prep Classic on Wednesday night at Turpin Stadium on the campus of Northwestern State University.
Not even a tornado warning – that briefly stopped the Class 3A title game earlier – would prevent the LHSAA from hosting and completing all nine title games.
Also deserving of high praise are the folks at NSU who helped put on an excellent Prep Classic with President Chris Maggio picking up trash between games to Athletic Director Greg Burke working the ticket booth. The Demons were phenomenal, but this thank you is for Bonine and the LHSAA.
With the LHSAA facing its most daunting year since 2005 when Hurricane Katrina forever left its destructive mark on the state, the often-embattled Bonine rose to the occasion.
He did so by providing a steady and strong hand of leadership, and did so with an even-tempered mentality. Bonine was the leader the state needed.
It began earlier this year, with the state being able to get in the basketball championships right before the COVID-19 pandemic began sweeping over the state. Bonine tried to keep the softball and baseball seasons alive, but his hand was forced due to restrictions put in place by the government as the cases climbed throughout the spring.
Even when things appeared dire in late summer, when completing the 2020 football season seemed like a daydream, Bonine did not resort to knee jerk reactions and decisions. Instead, he wisely moved to push back the start of the season and reduce the regular season schedule; both moves resulted in having championships.
Finally, Bonine had the foresight to see a possible issue with the title games held in their traditional home of the Mercedes-Benz Superdome – with New Orleans’ restrictions to fan attendance and large gatherings. Thus the move of the games to Natchitoches.
The turnaround is to put it bluntly – stunning.
Bonine ruffled feathers from I-20 all the way down to south of I-10 immediately after taking office. The issue many had with Bonine was that his approach was refreshingly direct but also at times bombastic and controversial.
There was the blasting of the state’s officials association (LHSOA) on a radio show, or the email calling the LHSAA a “proverbial dumpster fire.” Bonine never steered away from speaking, especially in the public forum, and not everyone was thrilled.
Not helping the developing contentious relationship between Bonine and the schools were the punishments that he unabashedly handed down with a sledgehammer to some of the state’s biggest brand names.
Southern Lab was stripped of two Division IV state titles and a runner-up finish for recruiting violations, West Monroe’s coach Jerry Arledge was suspended for player tampering, Amite was suspended from the state semifinals for on-field fight, and there was, of course, the stripping of a state championship and the forfeit of 20 games by the nation’s winningest high school coach, J.T. Curtis of powerhouse John Curtis.
Things got so contentious that committee board members and principals were secretly trying to oust Bonine from his office in Baton Rouge – a coup that only came to light because of a Freedom of Information Act request.
Yet, since that tumultuous beginning to his tenure, Bonine has steadied the ship of high school sports. He masterfully led the LHSAA through 2017’s historic flooding and has improved the organization’s financial situation, which was dire when he took over.
Yes, he has failed to yet bring the state’s postseasons back into one. In fact, the infamous split which he inherited has seemingly only widened under his watch, but to be fair, he may not have fully realized just how deep the resentment was for parties on both sides.
But as we enter the new year, there is now a sense of hope that the two sides could come back together as one again, and that the LHSAA will find a way to have all sports crown champions 2021 – and for that Eddie Bonine deserves our thanks.