American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on leaving LHSAA rules alone
American Press, Lake Charles, Louisiana, on leaving LHSAA rules alone:
From time to time, common sense takes a hiatus from the halls of the state Capitol.
Such is the case of an emotional fight that pits the Legislature against the Louisiana High School Athletic Association, the governing body for prep athletics in the state.
In question is the eligibility of a refugee from Africa whose appeal to circumvent a long-standing age eligibility rule has state lawmakers attempting to intervene on his behalf.
Clement Mubungirwa and his family fled their native Congo on foot and lived in a Ugandan refugee camp before arriving in the United States when Mubungirwa was 12. Mubungirwa’s father went missing and is presumed to have been killed by rebels that operated in Congo. Clement Mubungirwa suffered starvation and malaria during his formative years.
Once he arrived in this country, the youngster repeated two grades because he had little formal education and spoke little English.
He has since starred in soccer and football for Episcopal High School in Baton Rouge and has been penciled in as the school’s starting quarterback for the coming season.
The problem is that Mubungirwa turns 19 on July 7. The LHSAA’s age rule, which dates back decades, allows 19-year-olds to compete only if their birthday falls on or after Sept. 1.
Now some state lawmakers are taking up his cause, demanding that the LHSAA make an exception. It’s gone so far-fetched that state Rep. Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, produced a bill that said if the LHSAA did not grant an exception to Mubungirwa, it would be banned from using the Mercedes-Benz Superdome for its high school state championship games this year.
State Rep. Eddie Lambert, R-Prairieville, correctly pointed out that Abramson’s bill sounded a lot like extortion.
LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson said Mubungirwa’s eligibility appeal is not unique and that the LHSAA had no choice but to uphold its age rule no matter how compelling the athlete’s hardship. He said that in the past one player missed out on qualifying because he was born two minutes before midnight on Aug. 31.
“Each school in our state has a Clement. He may not be a refugee from Africa, but he has a similar story. He is from our own country, our own state,” said Henderson.
And therein lies the slippery slope of state lawmakers meddling and writing legislation for an exception that, in time, will likely lead to another exception and another and another.
As compelling and uplifting as Mubungirwa’s story is, it doesn’t merit state legislators attempting to circumvent long-standing LHSAA rules. Besides, don’t our state law-makers have more pressing issues to confront?