Legislation that would require third-party arbitration on eligibility issues for high school athletes narrowly passed the state Senate Tuesday night.

On a 21-to-17 vote, state senators approved Senate Bill 633 despite passionate pleas from state Sen. Gerald Long, R-Winnfield, on behalf of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association.

“This bill attempts to change the rules in the middle of the game,” Long said.

It’s an attempt to create a special exception for an Episcopal High School student in Baton Rouge, he said. The LHSAA rules were created to keep coaches from holding talented athletes back to play ball for longer than what it takes to graduate high school.

State Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge and sponsor of SB633, countered that students whose parents can afford to hire lawyers can challenge the rulings of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association. His legislation creates a way for students whose families don’t have the means to appeal those decisions too.

The LHSAA refused to let Clement Mubungirwa, a junior who turns 19 on July 7, play next year. Claitor said Mubungirwa fled political violence in Africa and came to the United States at the age of 12, barely able to speak English.

At 5 feet, 8 inches tall, Mubungirwa weighs 175 pounds and has played fullback and defense end for the Episcopal Knights. He also plays on the school’s soccer team.

SB633 now heads to the Louisiana House for consideration.