Bill Challenging LHSAA Player Eligibility Rule Passes La. House Committee
Should a soon-to-be 19-year-old Clement Mubungirwa be allowed to play football for Episcopal High School this fall? That question is at the heart of a La. Senate bill that is now heading to the full La. House after passing a La. House committee on Monday, reports Louisiana Radio Network.
Mubungirwa's story is quite remarkable. According to Episcopal Athletic Director Myra Mansur, he came to the United States in 2007 after being forced to hide from Rwandan rebels in Uganda as a child. Even though he was at about a second grade reading level, he was placed in the 7th grade. And the young student-athlete has made the most of his educational opportunity, catching up in just two and a half years, which has set him up for his upcoming senior year.
The bill is sponsored by Baton Rouge Senator Dan Claitor, who calls this a hardship situation. His bill is seeking to force the Louisiana High School Athletic Association to use 3rd-party arbitration to hear player eligibility issues. Currently, the LHSAA rule states that if a student turns 19-years-old before September 1st (Mubungirwa will turn 19-years-old 55 days before September 1st), that student cannot play varsity sports the following school year. Mubungirwa's appeal was denied by the LHSAA, which led to this legislation being filed.
"We're asking, that the executive committee, that you guys, would help with some form of discretion in this very extenuating circumstance for this young man," says Mansur. "This is not the norm. This is not a precedent. This is not about football."
Mansur believes a non-partisan arbitrator should hear this case and says Mubungirwa's story is one reason why the bill is needed. "We're asking that he be allowed to play his senior year," pleaded Mansur. "This Senate bill is trying to give families like Clement, schools like Episcopal, an opportunity to be heard by an unbiased third party."
"Allowing a student to play against the rules is in total opposition of what sports is all about," countered LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson. "Every sport is a game of rules. Every sport is about everyone learning to play within the rules that have been adopted for that game." Henderson pointed out there have been other student-athletes who have had tough lives who have not been allowed to play under this rule.
But Mansur believes compassion is needed in this case and that the LHSAA's current appeals process is not fair. However, Henderson challenged that notion by bringing up other student-athletes who already do meet the age requirement. "Think about the other student at Episcopal who has followed all of the rules and will finally get his long-awaited spot in the starting lineup for football only to have it dashed by the student who does not meet the rule but is allowed to play because of the passage of 633."
After passing the La. Senate already by a 21-17 vote, and now passing a La. House committee by an 8-3 vote on Monday, it's clear that lawmakers are not siding with Henderson's 'rules are rules' argument, for now.