One of Louisiana’s top feel-good stories in high school sports for 2013-14 abruptly came unraveled last week.
What a double whammy it was to learn that Livonia High School would have to forfeit 18 baseball games along with seven football games and its Class 3A football runner-up trophy and gate receipts from three football playoff games.
The Louisiana High School Athletic Association’s executive committee upheld a ruling that involved a freshman student who was found to be ineligible following an LHSAA investigation earlier in the week.
By all appearances, the Pointe Coupee Parish school had done everything right on and off the field.
There was a Cinderella story and trip to the Mercedes-Benz Superdome that ended with Livonia losing to Union Parish in a pulsating 3A football final that went to overtime.
The Wildcats baseball team was rolling along with a 22-4 record and a predicted top-10 seed in the 3A playoff bracket.
Livonia also did the right thing by self-reporting the possible violation that involved a student who came to the school after attending middle school in an adjacent parish system.
As the reality of Livonia’s situation sets in, I suspect that one of America’s favorite pastimes, the “Blame Game,” will begin.
Do you blame the school as in the coaches or the administration?
Or do you blame the LHSAA?
These days it’s easy to pile on the LHSAA, given its select vs. nonselect school issues. The controversy surrounding Episcopal’s pursuit of another year of eligibility for football-soccer player Clement Mubungirwa that has now gravitated toward the Legislature also casts the LHSAA in a negative light.
Some members of the executive committee, including vice president Vic Bonnaffee of Central Catholic, called the sanctions and appeal another unfortunate example of administrators and coaches not knowing and understanding all the LHSAA rules.
Bonnaffee is correct in stating that more principals should take advantage of the handbook certification classes the LHSAA offers.
If I was a principal, I’d have someone on my staff take the class every year in order to stay current on the LHSAA rules. Rules do change, though the rule cited in this instance is not a new one, just one rarely invoked.
However, the cases of Livonia and Mandeville, which appealed having to forfeit eight games under similar circumstances, offer a reminder of what a Catch-22 the LHSAA rules can be, especially when the school is Class 3A or larger.
Bonnaffee said at his Class 1A school he verifies the addresses and custody agreements for each student who enrolls. Doing that at a Class 3A, 4A or 5A is a different matter based on the number of students.
Because Livonia’s case involved a ninth-grader, it was tougher. Most ninth-graders are eligible because they don’t have a history as an LHSAA athlete and they have not transferred from another school. Had the student been an older transfer student, it might have been easier to detect an issue.
A Class 1A school typically has 250 students or less. In some cases much less. Imagine trying to check out the background of each student in a school 450 or more students.
How about doing it for a school with 2,000 students, including hundreds of registered athletes?
In the Livonia case and a case involving another student more than a decade ago, the school’s coaches knew where the student lived, based on the enrollment form address and visited the home. But that didn’t change the outcome or the sanctions.
As one coach from another school told me, “It could happen to anybody, especially with a ninth-grader.”
In this case it happened to Livonia, a school with a spotless reputation and a sports program that has had perhaps its best year ever.
So who’s to blame? Ask 10 people and you’ll probably get a 50/50 split with half blaming the LHSAA and the other half pointing a finger at school officials.
Just another tough break, right? Heartbreaking is the word I prefer.