The Friday afternoon release of an arbitrator’s ruling could finally end the five-month eligibility saga for Episcopal football and soccer standout Clement Mubungirwa.
Representatives for Episcopal and the Louisiana High School Athletic Association met with the arbitrator for more than three hours Thursday at the LHSAA office to present their cases.
The two sides were told the arbitrator assigned by the American Arbitration Association would render a decision between noon and 4 p.m. Friday. Episcopal opens its football regular season at North Vermilion on Friday night.
LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson declined comment on the hearing on the advice of the organization’s attorney, Brad Lewis. The arbitrator’s ruling cannot be appealed.
“I feel like we were heard,” Episcopal Athletic Director Myra Mansur said. “I think it’s going to come down to the very narrow interpretation of the (LHSAA) handbook.
“The frustrating thing for me is on one hand it says in the handbook that a hardship is defined here (and is decided by a separate hardship committee). The age rule can only be appealed to the executive committee.”
Mubungirwa’s case attracted state and national attention after the LHSAA’s executive committee denied his appeal for an added year of eligibility as a 19-year-old by a close vote in late March. His birthday falls 55 days before the LHSAA’s Sept. 1 cutoff date allowing 19-year-old eligibility.
The LHSAA’s 19-year-old rule, which dates to the 1950s, has never been overturned and cannot be appealed to a hardship committee.
Weeks later, the Legislature passed a law paving the way for third-party arbitrations by the LHSAA and its schools in cases like Mubungirwa’s. Thursday’s hearing was the first arbitration since the law was passed. Episcopal was the only school to request an arbitration hearing.
Episcopal and its attorney, John Stone Campbell III, argue Mubungirwa’s case constitutes a hardship because he fell behind academically after he spent his early years in a refugee camp where education wasn’t a regular option.
Mubungirwa’s family moved to Baton Rouge in 2007 through the work of the Catholic Charities of the Diocese of Baton Rouge. He entered a structured school for the first time at age 12 and played recreation soccer.
The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Mubungirwa didn’t start playing football until he came to Episcopal as an eighth-grader. He played running back for the first time last season and ran for 1,358 yards and 19 TDs. He also had 33 goals and 11 assists in soccer.
“We finally got, I believe, a real opportunity to present the case,” Campbell said. “The problem has been that LHSAA has refused to consider the circumstances. Their stance has been that there’s never been an exception to the age rule before so we’re not going to do it. That’s what an appeal is about. That’s what arbitration is about.
“If the circumstances of this case don’t support an exception, then the process is meaningless. This is as strong a case as any of us has ever seen. There’s one other thing I’d like to add. I’ve been associated with Episcopal my entire life. I know the people behind this.
“Episcopal is doing this for one reason only, and that’s for Clement. It’s not about winning.”
Episcopal Head of School Hugh M. McIntosh added, “I think everyone had the chance to say what they needed to say.”