Lafayette Christian Academy filed a lawsuit in East Baton Rouge Parish on July 11 against the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, according to a copy of the lawsuit obtained Tuesday by The Acadiana Advocate.
This comes after the LHSAA sanctioned LCA in March for the alleged use of non-faculty head coaches in football and girls basketball.
Football and girls and boys basketball are the only varsity sports in which the LHSAA does not allow non-faculty members to serve as head coaches, a rule addressed in the LHSAA’s handbook.
LCA filed the 24-page lawsuit under The Family Church, Inc., which operates the school, and is represented by the Duhon Law Firm. The Family Church’s pastor, Jay Miller, is the president of LCA. The school claims the LHSAA is a state actor, meaning it can be sued for violating the school’s constitutional rights.
LHSAA executive director Eddie Bonine declined to go into specifics about the lawsuit.
“In most litigation that the LHSAA is involved in, it boils down to a difference of opinion and/or interpretation of our constitution or bylaws,” Bonine said in a phone interview with The Advocate. “That’s what this case is. There’s nothing unusual about it. I’m confident my interpretation is accurate, as is my legal counsel, as is my executive committee upholding my decision.”
Based on bylaw 3.7.1 in the organization's handbook, the LHSAA originally suspended four LCA coaches — Barry Baldwin, Errol Rogers, Trev Faulk and Devin Lantier, the latter two of whom are non-faculty members at the school — for a calendar year.
The school was also initially fined $10,000 — $5,000 apiece for rule violations in football and girls basketball.
However, the LHSAA reduced the punishment upon appeal during its summer executive committee meeting in June. The state’s high school governing body removed the suspensions of the two faculty members, Baldwin and Rogers, and cut the fine in half .
But Faulk and Lantier’s suspensions were upheld, and the school responded with the lawsuit. LCA argues it hasn’t violated LHSAA rules at all because Faulk and Lantier aren’t the head coaches of football and girls basketball teams, respectively.
According to the lawsuit, Bonine sent out notices of rule violation and assessment of penalty to LCA principal Shauna Babin via email March 12. Bonine believes the school violated bylaws 3.3.1 and 3.4.3 in the LHSAA handbook, using evidence, at least in part, from LCA’s participation in the football and girls basketball state championships during the 2018-19 school year.
LCA contends Bonine came to an “arbitrary and capricious” conclusion that is “not based upon all relevant facts or an objective standard,” the lawsuit states.
“The Director’s failure to consider the entire football and basketball season is shocking and unexplainable,” the lawsuit adds.
Bylaw 3.3.1 defines what a “faculty coach” is. It states, in part, that a faculty coach “shall hold the position of teacher, administrator, athletic director, dean of students, librarian, or school counselor or a combination of these responsibilities on a full-time basis by the school system. In all cases, the individual shall be required to be physically present and work at his/her school(s) during the entire school day during the school’s normal hours of operation.”
But LCA argues the LHSAA handbook does not define the duties of a “head coach.”
Baldwin, who serves as the Knights’ athletic director, is the head coach of the football team and fulfills that role in a variety of capacities outside of running practices and calling plays, the school states in the lawsuit.
That includes, among many other things listed in the lawsuit, working with coaches to schedule games, arranging transportation for road contests, obtaining officials for home games and purchasing equipment for the team.
In a traditional sense, though, Faulk has appeared to be the head coach of the football team for the past three years despite not being a faculty member. The Knights’ football team has enjoyed incredible success in the six years it has competed in the LHSAA, including winning the 2017 and 2018 Division IV championships.
Faulk — the former Lafayette High and LSU star who played in the NFL — was a faculty member at his two previous stops as a head coach, Vermilion Catholic and Northside, but has not been one at LCA.
According to the lawsuit, in two December emails to Babin, Bonine told the school principal that Faulk has been identified by state championship game referees, LHSAA staff members and working media as the head coach and had also been named “Coach of the Year” by an unidentified media outlet, both of which were evidence of the school violating the LHSAA’s bylaws.
The situation is slightly different with Rogers, Lantier and the LCA girls basketball program.
Lantier took on a bigger role with the girls basketball team when Rogers, the Lady Knights’ former coach, took over the boys basketball program. Lantier, previously an assistant under Rogers for five years, led the LCA girls team to its third straight state championship, while Rogers did the same with the boys.
Rogers sat on the bench during the Lady Knights’ games and helped coach the team this past season, but Lantier, like Faulk, appeared to function as the head coach in a traditional sense. LHSAA did not allow Lantier, a business owner in Lafayette, to stand up on the sideline during the state tournament this past year, as head coaches often do.
Using non-faculty head coaches in sports outside of football and girls and boys basketball — and as an assistant coach in those three sports — is both allowed and common in the LHSAA. To do so, non-faculty coaches must receive certification in the LHSAA’s Coaches Education and Certification Program.
But if LCA is deemed to have used non-faculty head coaches in football and girls basketball, the school argues it is not the only one violating the rule.
“Other schools have engaged in the same conduct that caused LHSAA to penalize LCA,” the lawsuit states, “but these schools have not been treated by LHSAA in the same manner as LCA has.”