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Wednesday, April 24, 2019

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Trojans lose appeal, withdraw from LHSAA playoffs

Trojans lose appeal, withdraw from LHSAA playoffs

BATON ROUGE -- The Louisiana High School Athletic Association's executive committee denied an appeal by Central Lafourche High School after the association issued penalties following a halftime fight Feb. 17 between players for central and those for East St. John.

The executive committee listened to Central Lafourche's appeal during a sportsmanship hearing held at the Crowne Plaza Tuesday afternoon.

The committee, made up of principals Karl Carpenter of Pineville, Sharon Clark of Sophie B. Wright and Lee Bellard of Church Point and moderated by LHSAA Assistant Executive Director Keith Alexander, ruled in favor of the ruling suspending all players who were involved in the fight for the first round of the playoffs. Central Lafourche then withdrew from the playoffs, citing a lack of eligible players.

The game between Central and East St. John was called at halftime due to the fight that occurred in a small hallway that both teams went through to get to their locker rooms at East St. John's gym in Reserve.

Central Lafourche led 45-25 at halftime, but game officials decided not to play the second half for security reasons after the fight.

Citing association sportsmanship rules, Executive Director Eddie Bonine ordered a forfeit of the game for both teams and an automatic one-game suspensions for all players involved. The committee upheld both rulings on Tuesday.

Both schools submitted disqualification forms that listed the names of the players who were in the official game scorebook, which members of the executive committee said was the only thing it had to determine which players should be suspended.

Central Lafourche Athletic Director Shelly Vedros and East St. John Principal Tebari Simon said not all players from both teams were involved. Information submitted on disqualification forms may have been incorrect, they said, as they weren't sure who was involved in the fight. But the LHSAA stuck by its rules.

Each school was fined $500. Central Lafourche must also pay for expenses in making the appeal, while East St. John was asked to create plans that would prevent teams from using the same hallway to get to locker rooms in its gym.

After hearing the executive committee's ruling, Central Lafourche Principal Jarod Martin said the Trojans will withdraw from the upcoming basketball playoffs.

Central Lafourche was listed on the playoff brackets as a No. 13 seed. The Trojans would've have hosted No. 20 Terrebonne, which will now a bye in the first round and qualification for the second-round.

Martin said the school decided to forfeit its playoff game because it doesn't have enough eligible players to participate in the playoff game.

"We are disappointed," Martin said. "This effectively ends our season. We were hoping that we had a chance to get some players eligible because not all of our players were involved in the altercation. We don't have enough players that would be eligible to continue our playoff push. It's unfortunate because one of the best teams our high school has ever fielded won't get to play in the playoffs."

Simon said No. 28 East St. John will accept the penalties and field a team made up of eligible junior varsity and freshman players during its Class 5A first-round playoff game Friday night at No. 5 H.L. Bourgeois.

"We agree with the LHSAA's decision. We take accountability for our actions," Simon said. "That's what we want to teach our kids. Both teams need to take responsibility. We want to be sure that we follow that ruling of making changes and work on correcting our mistakes."

During the two-hour hearing, representatives from both schools testified in front of the committee, getting a chance to present their cases.

Both sides agreed that the fight was short and quickly broken up by security.

Prior to the fight, they agreed, there were no hard fouls or any indication that a fight would take place at halftime.

When talk shifted to which team started the fight, the sides offered different opinions.

Two players -- David Robinson of Central Lafourche and Javon Antonio of East St. John -- were said to be involved.

Simon, along with representatives from the St. John the Baptist Parish Sheriff's Office and the New Orleans Basketball Officials association, said that a Central Lafourche player instigated the fight by making taunting signs toward the scoreboard at East St. John's players going into halftime.

Simon said a Central Lafourche player threw the first punch that sparked the fight.

Central Lafourche representatives -- Martin, Lafourche schools Director of Secondary and Middle School Education Chris Kimball and Lt. Mark Adams of the Lafourche Sheriff's office -- said an East St. John player started the fight with a "premeditated attack" that included up to four punches thrown at a Central Lafourche player and that the Trojan players were acting in self-defense.

Central Lafourche basketball coach Mark Sanders voiced his displeasure at the executive committee's ruling after the meeting, saying his players are being punished for defending themselves in a small hallway where they couldn't escape.

"We worked hard all year to give our kids a chance to play in the playoffs and play for a chance to make it to the state tournament for the first time in school history, but we can't do it because of one East St. John player who tried to get the attention of our players and start a fight," Sanders said. "We were trying to protect ourselves. It's disappointing because our seniors don't have a chance to play in the playoffs this year. They are done for this year."

Sanders, who didn't speak in front of the executive committee but who attended the meeting, said members of the LHSAA and the executive committee did not understand the situation.

"We did absolutely nothing wrong except protect ourselves. East St. John is guilty of it, and they got away with it," Sanders said. "As long as they get away with it, kids will keep doing that. I'm not happy. I'm done dealing with the LHSAA. It's frustrating to be in this situation. Now I have to go back and tell 13 kids that your season is over. Just because you got punched in the face four times, you can't play in the playoffs."