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UPDATED: Vandy girls hoops saga ends with team not playing


The Vandebilt Catholic girls basketball team took the floor for a Class 4A semifinal playoff game on Friday, but it never played the game. Just minutes before a scheduled 4:30 p.m. tipoff against St. Michael of Baton Rouge at the Southeastern Louisiana Center, Louisiana High School Athletic Association officials forced Lady Terriers coach Kathy Luke to take her team off the court after a three-minute warm-up. Pictured is Lady Terriers player Jewel Triggs. (Photo by Chris Heller/Staff)


Chris Singleton and Kelly McElroy

Staff Writers

HAMMOND — The Vandebilt Catholic girls basketball team took the floor for a Class 4A semifinal playoff game on Friday, but it never played the game.

Just minutes before a scheduled 4:30 p.m. tipoff against St. Michael of Baton Rouge at the Southeastern Louisiana Center, Louisiana High School Athletic Association officials forced Lady Terriers coach Kathy Luke to take her team off the court after a three-minute warm-up.

The action came after three days of legal maneuvering by Houma attorney Jay Luke on behalf of a Lady Terriers player who was ruled ineligible by the association.

Association Director Kenny Henderson ruled Wednesday that Vandebilt sophomore Jewel Triggs failed to meet the association's transfer policy when she moved back to Thibodaux this season while attending the Houma school.

Jay Luke, Kathy Luke's husband and an assistant district attorney in Terrebonne Parish, asked a judge on behalf of Triggs and her parents for a temporary restraining order to keep the Lady Terriers in the Class 4A playoffs. State District Judge George Larke Sr. of Houma granted the order Thursday.

The athletic association appealed to Larke Friday morning, but he kept his original order intact.

That would have allowed Vandebilt to compete in the Friday semifinals.

However, the association took its case to the First Circuit Court of Appeals in Baton Rouge just before game time, and that court ruled in the association's favor, saying the Houma court had no jurisdiction over the group's decision.

As a result, Salmen High of Slidell, who Vandebilt beat on Monday night in the quarterfinals, was allowed back into the playoffs and beat St. Michael 63-34. Salmen is headed to next week's Class 4A final in Monroe.

Coach Luke offered no comment Wednesday, Thursday or Friday as the Lady Terriers left Hammond for Houma, and the Lady Terriers players were not made available for comment while boarding the team bus. Jewel Triggs mom, Charity, also declined comment.

Jay Luke said the Baton Rouge court ruling was more about the association having the power to interpret its own rules.

St. Michael coach Tami Reynolds-McClure said after the game she was disappointed that a rule written in the association's handbook stating that a team must be placed on the bracket 48 hours prior to a playoff game was not followed.

St. Michael found out it was playing Salmen instead of Vandebilt just minutes before tip-off.

Earlier in the week, St. Michael appealed the ruling that Salmen be allowed to play, but its appeal was denied.

"That rule is written in black and white in the LHSAA handbook, and it was either not followed or interpreted differently," Reynolds-McClure said. "It's about the kids, and you hope the focus is not taken off the kids. But when something like this happens, that is what this game is going to be remembered for."

Salmen coach Kevin Anderson said his team made the most of the opportunity to play in the semifinals.

"We kept focused on basketball and kept our mind on the game (through the uncertainty)," Anderson said. "Any time you get a second chance in life it's a good thing. My seniors were crying on Monday night because they thought they were playing their last game."

Vandebilt took the court at 3:55 p.m. Friday for its game against St. Michael, but at 3:58 p.m. was asked to leave the floor. After Salmen was allowed to warm-up, the game against St. Michael started at 5:06 p.m.

 

THE PLAYER

On Thursday the restraining order was sought by the Vandebilt player's parents, Charity and Garland Triggs, and not by Vandebilt. They asked Larke to put the association's decision on hold until a hearing could be held within 10 days to determine their daughter's eligibility.

Jewel, who has attended Vandebilt since eighth grade and is originally from Thibodaux, participated in Vandebilt's practice Thursday and made the trip to Hammond Friday.

Questions surrounding whether Jewel lived in Thibodaux with her father while attending Vandebilt led to the school asking the association for an investigation, Jay Luke said.

If Jewel, who attended St. Joseph Elementary in Thibodaux as a seventh-grader, was living in that city with her father, she would have been ineligible to play sports at Vandebilt without sitting out a year because of transfer rules.

But their attorney contends Jewel was living in Houma with her mother when she began attending Vandebilt in 2010 when her parents separated, which made her eligible to play sports.

According to the family's lawsuit, the separated couple filed and was granted a petition for divorce by a Terrebonne Parish judge on Nov. 5, 2010, along with a consent joint-custody agreement, which named Charity Triggs as the primary parent of Jewel at the Houma address.

According to association rules, Jewel is eligible to play sports at a school in the attendance zone after 45 days of signing the judgment of custody," the family's suit said.

"The 45-day rule ended on Dec. 25, 2010. No complaint or request for the action on this rule was requested within one-year, so statute of limitations has run out."

Jay Luke said when Vandebilt officials inquired into the eligibility status of Jewel as an eighth grader, they incorrectly asked the association to investigate the matter under the association's Bona Fide Change of Residence Rules (dealing with whole family residency) instead of the Separation and Divorce Rule (dealing with separated and divorced parents' residency), which the attorney said was the correct rule to review the case under.

When Vandebilt officials requested an investigation earlier this year after learning Jewel moved back to Thibodaux with her mother and grandmother in December, Jay Luke said the school realized the mistake and asked the association to take another look at the situation.

Jay Luke said the association would have allowed the move if paperwork had been filed under the Separation and Divorce Rule, but since it was filed under the Bona Fide statute when she moved back to Thibodaux before the two-year period was up, she was ruled ineligible.

"(Vandebilt) Principal James Reiss stated that the school messed up by filing the wrong rule," Jay Luke said. "That young kid has done nothing wrong. The family did everything that was asked of them by the LHSAA and Vandebilt."

Jay Luke said he will "meet with the family soon and decide on the best option going forward."

According to a NOLA.com report, Reynolds-McClure said the LHSAA investigation into Vandebilt’s request for an eligibility ruling began prior to the start of the playoffs, but was not concluded until Wednesday due to a lack of sufficient evidence.

NOLA.com said that evidence was supplied in a written affidavit delivered to the LHSAA by a former Vandebilt player, who now lives in Florida, Henderson said on Thursday. The former Vandebilt player testified that Jewel Triggs was residing in Thibodaux rather than in Houma where the family initially documented her residence to be, the report said.

The former Vandebilt player's name hasn't been released by the LHSAA. When contacted earlier today, Jay Luke said he hasn't seen the affidavit and had no comment on it at this time.

With the Baton Rouge court's ruling Friday, the association said Vandebilt will have to forfeit every game in which Jewel participated in during the 2011-12 and 2012-13 basketball seasons.

The school is also required to return any money it received from gate receipts for participating in the forfeited contest in the state playoffs.

Also, the school has been placed on administrative probation for one calendar year until Feb. 2014, and must pay a $200 fine and additional fees to the association for conducting any investigations related to the ineligibility.

Kathy Luke is also required to attend mandatory handbook certification classes, and Jewel is ineligible for no longer than a calendar year.

 

KEEPING QUIET

The Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux offered a statement on Thursday, and no one at Vandebilt is speaking with the media.

"The decision of the Louisiana High School Athletic Association comes as a result of a policy violation involving the residence of one of our student athletes," the statement reads. "The possibility of this situation was brought to the attention of our administration and upon a preliminary inquiry, we found some discrepancy. We requested of the association that they do an investigation of this, and after it was completed, a violation was found. We as a school need to review the circumstances of how this occurred, determine what could have been done to prevent the violation, and take steps to ensure that it does not happen in the future."

On Friday morning in the Houma courtroom, the diocese stated that Vandebilt is a member of the association and that, as a member, it has agreed to abide by all its bylaws.

Association attorney Brad Lewis appeared before Larke Friday morning. With the association appeal unsuccessful, Lewis took the issue to the state district court in Baton Rouge later Friday where it was overturned.