BATON ROUGE Byrd head football coach and athletic director Mike Suggs had been plagued by nightmares since he learned his football team, and six other sports at the city’s largest high school, were declared ineligible for the 2015-16 postseason.
Suggs may lose some sleep Wednesday night, too, but that will have everything to do with the Evangel Eagles and not the LHSAA.
The Yellow Jackets (8-1) will play for more than a District 1-5A title Thursday against the Eagles at Lee Hedges Stadium. They will also play for playoff positioning after the postseason ban was overturned following an appeal hearing here at the LHSAA office.
More than 300 Caddo Parish student-athletes in nine sports at Byrd (six sports), Southwood (girls basketball) and Huntington (football) were cleared five days after the schools were deemed in violation of Rule 9.3 of the LHSAA handbook concerning practice during the school day:
The rules states: At all levels of play in all LHSAA sports prior to reporting for a team practice session that school day, if applicable, the school shall prohibit a student(s) from participating in any form of athletic participation for more than one regular class period during instructional time on a school day.
The problems began when the Caddo Parish School Board decision two years ago to move from a block classroom situation, offering 90-minute classes, to a seven-hour school day with 50-minute classes. The schools in question moved some athletes into two shorter athletic periods instead of one like they had in the old system.
The 10-year-old rule was clearly broken, but members of the LHSAA determined the offense was not intention and the original penalty was too harsh.
“It was a good example of collaborative effort among the LHSAA, the school district and school personnel,” said Eddie Bonine, the executive director of the LHSAA, who made the original ruling. “What we accomplished today was in the best interest of students.”
Byrd and Southwood have been fined $1,000 and will be required to take handbook certification courses.
“They did the right thing for kids,” Suggs said. “This was a mistake made by adults, made by myself — administrative mistakes we made by not knowing the rules and I’m embarrassed about that. We should have known.”
Said Keith Burton, chief academic officer for Caddo Parish Schools: “We knew Mr. Bonine struggled with a dated rule. We presented our facts and were very transparent. Because of that today, student athletes were not hurt.”
Bonine says the lack of uniformity regarding how much actual time schools are allowed to practice across the state likely impacted the vote.
“I had to make the decision I made because of the way the rule was written, but I also think we have to make sure our rules are effective, applicable and they are also in the best interest of students, which is our best commodity,” Bonine said. “This is a great example of making sure we’re doing the right thing.
“We’re going to look at making the (time allowed to practice) rule uniform. We’ll look to prepare the language to bring to the annual meeting in January.”
Suggs said he was made aware of the rule he was violating through a text – he believes the process was put into motion by another local school – two weeks ago.
“We didn’t even know the rule existed,” Suggs said. “When we looked in the book, we said, ‘Oh, no. We are in violation of this rule by the wording of the rule, not by the intent.’ That’s when we made the call to turn ourselves in.”
The schedules for the student-athletes in question have been altered.
“We’ve moved those students from PE electives to other electives to be able to make sure they’re able to graduate on time,” Burton said.
Bonine, who has been in charge for 11 months, is aware Wednesday’s decision could ruffle the feathers of other local schools – some that may have been popped for violations in the past.
“If there is any backlash (from other schools), OK,” Bonine said. “We’re doing what I said from the get go – enforce the rule and attempt to do everything I can in the best interest in students. If decisions made in the past were not made under that same umbrella, OK, I’m not going to apologize for that. I wasn’t here.
“They have a bone to pick with me, I’m at 12720 Old Hammond Highway in Baton Rouge. It is what it is.”
Now, Thursday, Suggs and the Yellow Jackets can focus on football. And the seniors know it won’t mean a sudden end.
“Now we know we’ll have an opportunity to play in Week 11, so they’ll be excited,” Suggs said. “We’re just excited and ready to go.”