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The Case of illegal recruitment of Hurrican Katrina evacuees as football players

published September 25, 2006

Judith Earley
( 52 votes, average: 5 out of 5)
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DATELINE: Bastrop, Louisiana, population 13,000, a tiny point on the map in the northeast corner of the state. Last month the Breaux Bridge Tigers were awarded the 2005 Class 4A state football championship after the Bastrop Rams were stripped of the crown. It was the first state football title captured by Bastrop in nearly 80 years.

The controversy arose when Rams assistant coaches were accused of illegally recruiting five football players who were Hurricane Katrina evacuees. Suddenly homeless after the disaster, the players were in need of food, shelter, and a place where they could go to school and play football.

Many Bastrop residents were in shock over the ruling. They saw the school and the town as reaching out to do a good thing in a time of tragedy. Others agree that while the technical letter of the law may have been violated, the spirit remained in tact.

Last winter, an investigation by the Louisiana High School Athletic Association cleared Bastrop of any wrong doing; but another school lodged a second complaint. Bastrop did not fare as well this time. Investigators ruled that Bastrop illegally recruited and falsified documents when it allowed five former Port Sulphur, Louisiana athletes displaced by Hurricane Katrina to play football at the school.

In addition to losing its 2005 Class 4A state football championship, the program was fined $14,000. All-state quarterback Randall Mackey, running back Jamal Recasner, and running back James Brown were ruled ineligible to play athletics this year. Mackey and Recasner still attend Bastrop; Brown now attends school at South Plaquemines.

Bastrop assistant coach D'Carlos Holmes was found to have made contact with the players and arranged transportation for them to Bastrop. If the students had furnished their own transportation, it would not have been an issue. Holmes was placed on probation and ordered to attend the LHSAA's Coaches Education and Certification Program. He cannot coach at any football games this season. Bastrop head coach Brad Bradshaw also was ordered to attend the CECP program.

There was one semi-bright spot in the situation: the LHSAA amended its decision a few days later, after receiving a written appeal from Richard Hartley, Superintendent of the Morehead Parish school system, of which Bastrop is a member. The one-year ineligibility penalties levied against the players were reduced to two-game suspensions. Bastrop football's administrative probation period was increased to four years and the fine reduced to $9,000; coaches Bradshaw and Holmes and players Mackey and Recasner were ordered to issue public apologies. Written documentation of those apologies will be sent to the LHSAA. According to the players, two assistant coaches, Holmes and Travis Stanley, coerced them into signing false statements. All other sanctions against the program remain.

The LHSAA passed special legislation last September allowing displaced students immediate athletic eligibility at any school in the area where they live. In the wake of the horror and devastation of Hurricane Katrina one year ago, was Bastrop's extra handout to three kids who had lost everything really all that bad?

The following rule (1.1.4) was amended at the Sept. 15, 2005 meeting of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association Executive Committee. Changes are in BOLD.

"1.1.4 Effective for only the first semester of the 2005-06 school year, a student who has been attending a school prior to Hurricane Katrina that has been classified a storm disaster parish by the Office of Emergency Preparedness and who has been displaced to a site in another parish or from Mississippi, Alabama, or Florida shall be considered a 'homeless' student for LHSAA purposes and shall become immediately eligible and remain under the Residence and School Transfers Rule at the first school he/she enrolls in and attends in that parish or an adjacent parish under the following conditions:

He/she meets the requirements of the Age Rule.

His/her principal makes his/her best effort to assure that the student is eligible under the following LHSAA rules:

Bona Fide Student Rule
Age Requirements Rule
Medical Examination Rule
Length of Eligibility
Scholastic Requirements Rule
All Other Applicable Eligibility Rules

The principal reports the student on an eligibility form and a special form prepared by the Commissioner and timely files these forms with the LHSAA prior to the student's participation in an interscholastic athletic contest.

Forms postmarked prior to the student's participation shall meet the requirements of being timely filed.

After September 22, 2005, if a school allows a student to play in an interscholastic athletic contest without being timely registered on the Supplemental Eligibility Form for Students Displaced by Hurricane Katrina, the school shall be penalized for allowing an ineligible student to play.

NOTE: Penalty for playing an ineligible player shall be a forfeit.

The student shall be allowed only one choice of schools for immediate eligibility under this rule.

Should the student execute the choice and subsequently enroll in and attend another LHSAA school in that parish or a connecting adjacent parish, he/she shall become immediately ineligible at that school for a period of one calendar year from his/her enrollment date.

In the event the school system is required to transfer the student to a second school because of logistical reasons, his/her case may be addressed through the LHSAA's Hardship Program.

It shall be a violation of the LHSAA's Recruiting Rule for anyone connected with a member school to contact one of these students in an attempt to persuade the student to attend that school for any reason."