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Lawmakers: Stay out of LHSAA's house

Last Modified: Tuesday, May 27, 2014 11:31 AM

By Jim Gazzolo / American Press

I was thinking about heading to Baton Rouge and asking lawmakers for a favor.

I was hoping that they could find it in their hearts to make a special rule to give just one more year of high school eligibility.

There is still plenty I don’t know, so taking a few classes, especially with this entire Common Core thing, should be easy.

At first I figured I was too old, according to Louisiana High School Athletic Association rules, but what are rules when you can trump them with a good story?

Now, coming up with a good story might be tough. I will be 52 by the time the next high school season starts, but isn’t that really just a number.

I mean, think of the good publicity I could muster up. This would be a win-win situation.

Back in my day I could play a little baseball, so somebody must be looking for an out-of-shape, once decent catcher.

My request comes on the heels of Louisiana lawmakers deciding to step on the toes of the LHSAA.

Just the other day the House voted 54-38 to have a third-party arbitrator rule on eligibility decisions when students request it.

The bill, introduced by Sen. Dan Claitor, R-Baton Rouge, is now on Gov. Bobby Jindal’s desk. Claitor brought the bill on behalf of Clement Mubungirwa, a 19-year-old Ugandan refugee who was kicked off his football team at Episcopal High School. Under LHSAA rules he was too old to play.

The LHSAA has an age cutoff for student-athletes. Students who turn 19 before September are ineligible for sports. Mubungirwa, who as a child-faced malnutrition and was abused while in refugee camps, turns 19 in July.

No longer a child, he is a man by age definition.

But never let a good rule slip through the cracks.

So our lawmakers wants to let Mubungirwa actually be a man amongst boys.

Granted, Mubungirwa’s story is a touching one. It tugs at your heart and rips at your guts.

His struggles to make it to America are what this country is all about.

But we are a land set by rules, too, something lawmakers have sadly missed.

By telling the LHSAA they only count when nobody complains, our leaders have kicked the door wide open to future troubles.

First of all, what about all the kids who were born between the actual cutoff day and Mubungirwa’s birthday? Each one of them can argue what is good for one is good for the other.

Remember, one of our Founding Father’s first rules: all men are created equal.

Then again, all men are created equal, but not all are built the same.

A 19-year-old Mubungirwa is most likely much bigger than a 14-year-old freshman he might go up against. That’s five years of physical development that must be made up.

To show the difference, Mubungirwa will be the same age as DeSean Smith at the start of this season. Smith is a Barbe graduate who is a sophomore on the LSU football team.

Anybody think it is fair for Smith to be playing against a freshman at say, Welsh High School?

That’s not apples and oranges either.

So our lawmakers have traded safety for a good story.

And justice for none.

They must not have been watching much NFL lately, where all the rage is player protection.

To make matters worse, soon everybody will be trying to break through the cracks of the system our leaders just created.

It seems to go against what they were put in office for. I always thought these folks were hired by the people and for the people, not the special interest of one.

I also thought they were put into office to fix problems, not create more.

Then again, I’m hoping the tooth fairy still shows up when I leave a molar under my pillow.

Truth is, I hate when lawyers get involved in sports. Just hate it.

They have a tendency to mess other things up enough.

There was even talk of barring the championship football games from being played inside the Superdome next year if Mubungirwa was not allowed to play.

So much for the needs of the many outweighing the needs of the few. Wait, that was Mr. Spock in “Star Trek” not a Founding Father, but you get the point.

It’s a point lawmakers seem to be missing, like a field goal booted wide left … or right if you prefer to take sides.

“This just fixes a broken process,” Rep. Major Thibaut, D-New Roads, told The Associated Press.

No, it doesn’t. It’s like fixing a leaky faucet in your kitchen by pulling out the sink.

Rep. Katrina Jackson, D-Monroe, said lawmakers need to prevent the (LHSAA) from making unfair rulings.

“There have been so many unreasonable decisions because of no oversight,” she said.

Setting a cutoff date is an “unreasonable decision”?

What the lawmakers are leaving us with is chaos, utter chaos.

Our courts are backed up enough, we don’t need to add all these high school eligibility cases to the mix.

What we really need is for the folks who make our laws to let other people do their job.

I do feel for Mubungirwa, but I also feel bad for every kid who missed the Little League cutoff date by a day.

If the lawmakers wanted to show Mubungirwa that this country is based on rules that are equal to all, then they should say sorry but the LHSAA has the final say.

Instead they want to turn it over to an arbitrator.

In doing so, they also showed him something about America.

Not all rules apply to somebody if they can help a team win a game.

Maybe that has become the American way.

Jim Gazzolo is managing sports editor. Email him at

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