The LHSAA hit McKinley High School with an unprecedented and massive all-sports penalty ruling Wednesday, including nearly $42,000 in fines and a two-year postseason ban that leaves the school's new leadership with plenty of cleanup work.
Former McKinley football coach Robert Signater — appointed Wednesday to return as the school’s interim head coach/athletic director by new principal Esrom Pitre — vowed to bring stability to the Panthers program, even as he grasped the scope of the sanctions that included a huge fine and a two-year playoff ban for all teams.
“I can tell you we are going to use everything we have to do get all the programs back to where they need to be,” Signater said. “The school and the student-athletes deserve it. We have a lot to do, but we will move forward.”
The LHSAA's ruling included four key components:
• McKinley, a Class 5A school, was fined $41,968.14 for eligibility/rules compliance violations in all sports. None of the violations involved illegal recruiting or other LHSAA hot-button issues.
Most violations involved lack of proper registration, birth certificates and other documentation required by the LHSAA. More than 150 violations were found in an LHSAA audit, according to a source close to the situation.
• McKinley is banned from the postseason for two years, 2018-19 and 2019-20, in all sports — another unprecedented piece in the ruling.
• The school must forfeit runner-up finishin Division I girls basketball for 2017-18. The ruling stated forfeits of games and events in other sports for 2017-18 are still to be determined.
• The LHSAA ruling stated that “nonfaculty” and “faculty” coaches are suspended for the 2018-19 school year, but the names of the coaches were not included. (As a private organization, the LHSAA is not required to supply names of persons involved in sanctions.)
Signater said the school will look to hire multiple coaches in the days ahead. Signater spent eight years as head football coach/AD at McKinley before serving as an assistant principal at Glen Oaks the past two years.
This is the second straight year the LHSAA levied unprecedented sanctions against a Baton Rouge school during the summer months. Southern Lab was ordered to forfeit two Division IV football titles and one runner-up finish in August. The Kittens were fined $5,000 and given a two-year playoff ban for football only that was later reduced to one year.
Other notable LHSAA fines through the years include $16,014.67 on 102 violations for now defunct Northwood Prep of Amite in 2001 and $7,125 for Northwood-Lena in 1992. Those fines still pale in comparison to the penalties McKinley faces.
"We are committed to making sure our student-athletes have the opportunity to compete at a high level and also perform at a high level academically," said Pitre, a former Scotlandville basketball coach and Donaldsonville principal who was in his fourth day on the job at McKinley on Wednesday.
"Like coach Signater said, we have a lot to do in a short period of time."
A statement from East Baton Rouge Parish School System spokesman Gwynn Shamblin addressed the ruling and future of the athletic program, saying: "At this time, the LHSAA has released a report regarding violations in the sports programs at McKinley High School. Investigations into these violations have been ongoing and the East Baton Rouge Parish School System has been and will continue to cooperate with the LHSAA to diligently address each violation.
"Several steps have been taken to preemptively address these issues including changes in school administration and coaching staff. Additional actions will be taken as needed. The district and school staff are committed to sustaining the tradition of McKinley High School's athletic program and will staff each sport appropriately for the 2018-2019 school year. Our priority remains ensuring the success of our students academically and athletically."
McKinley was sanctioned April 17 for violations found in volleyball, girls junior varsity basketball, girls soccer and boys track.
The April sanctions did not include a playoff ban. That ruling also stated that LHSCA coaching cards, which are used to gain free admission to LHSAA events, were suspended for one year for then-football coach and athletic director Ken Hilton, volleyball coach/assistant girls basketball coach Bridget Bowman, assistant girls basketball coach Jamar Flowers and head girls basketball coach Krystal Flowers.
Hilton resigned at the end of the school year and accepted a job at Central. None of the coaches were suspended from coaching as a result of the April ruling.