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Questions linger in Vandy saga



More than a week has passed since the Louisiana High School Athletic Association's ruling on an ineligible player used by the Vandebilt Catholic girls basketball team this season.

Questions about the LHSAA's investigation still remain, and the ruling continues to have effects on the ineligible player, her family and the girls basketball team.

Association Commissioner Kenny Henderson ruled Vandebilt sophomore girls basketball player Jewel Triggs ineligible due to a violation of the association's transfer rules policy on Feb. 27, forcing the Lady Terriers to forfeit their trip to the Class 4A state semifinals against St. Michael of Baton Rouge on March 1.

The parents of Jewel Triggs — Garland and Charity Triggs — filed a temporary restraining order request against the ruling, which Houma District Court Judge George Larke granted on Feb. 28. The association appealed on the morning of March 1, but Larke denied the request.

The LHSAA took its case to the 1st Circuit Court of Appeal in Baton Rouge just before the start of the state semifinal game. 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 48-44 in a quarterfinal playoff game on Feb. 25, was allowed back into the playoffs and beat St. Michael 63-34. Salmen is headed to tonight's Class 4A final against St. Thomas More in Monroe.

Vandebilt coach Kathy Luke has declined all interview requests since learning the news of the association's ruling on Feb. 27. Vandebilt's administration, which includes president David Keife, is still declining comment.

Vandebilt's administration, in a statement released by the Catholic Diocese of Houma-Thibodaux last week, said a violation was committed by the school, causing it to accept and not appeal Henderson's original ruling that ousted the Lady Terriers from the playoffs.

The Triggs family has also declined interview requests, directing all questions to their attorney Jay Luke, who is the husband of Kathy Luke and an assistant district attorney in Terrebonne Parish.

Jay Luke said he is planning a meeting soon with the Triggs family to see if they want to keep fighting the ineligibility ruling in the courts. Jay Luke said the family has 15 days, until March 16, to file an appeal to the Baton Rouge's court ruling on Jewel's ineligibility status.

"We will decide on the best option going forward," Jay Luke said. "We're going to try to get all the facts together and see what the family wants to do."

WAS RULING CORRECT?

During their three-day legal fight last week, Jay Luke said the family believed Jewel was in compliance with all LHSAA rules, even after the school discovered she moved back to Thibodaux last year.

Jay Luke said the LHSAA ruled Jewel, who wasn't allowed to request a hearing on her own behalf with the Executive Committee, eligible to play at Vandebilt under the Bona Fide Change of Residence rules in her eighth-grade year in 2010. Her parents separated, and after being granted a petition for divorce and a consent joint-custody agreement from a Terrebonne Parish judge on Nov. 5, 2010, Jewel and her mother established a residence in Houma.

Though the LHSAA's ineligibility ruling was issued two years after Jewel was originally ruled eligible to play at Vandebilt, Jay Luke said it shouldn't have mattered since she sat out the required 45 days after the judgment of custody was finalized.

Jay Luke also contended that Vandebilt officials incorrectly asked the association to investigate the matter under the 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 a new 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.

By then, it was too late, as the LHSAA ruled Jewel ineligible due to its Bona Fide rules. If Vandebilt had asked for a review under the right rule to begin with, Jay Luke said Jewel would have been ruled eligible.

"Vandebilt admitted that they screwed up," the Houma attorney said in reference to signed court papers from Vandebilt principal James Reiss. "There was no reason to put this family through all of this."

THE EVIDENCE

When Vandebilt officials learned Jewel had moved back to Thibodaux in Dec. 2012, Henderson said the school's officials self-reported a possible violation. The school requested an investigation into whether it broke any rules according to the association's Bona Fide Change of Residence rules right before the start of the girls basketball playoffs on Jan. 31.

Henderson said the association looked into the matter from the time Vandebilt first requested an investigation on Jan. 31 to the start of the girls basketball playoffs Feb. 18 but found nothing.

"We did an investigation, but we didn't really find everything we needed to make a final decision," Henderson said.

Vandebilt's girls basketball team went on to beat West Ouachita in the Class 4A bi-regional playoffs Feb. 18, Huntington in the regionals on Feb. 21 and Salmen in the quarterfinals on Feb. 25.

Henderson said the group's investigation was still ongoing during Vandebilt's run through the playoffs. He said the ruling was made after officials from Salmen contacted the LHSAA and provided a source who could testify that Jewel was living in another attendance zone.

Henderson confirmed that the source was a former girls basketball player from Vandebilt Catholic who left the team last year and is now living in Florida. The former player provided key information to the LHSAA that indicated Jewel was living in Thibodaux rather than Houma, where the family initially documented her residence to be.

Henderson said he was unaware of any written affidavit or statement from the former player.

"They provided us with some information. They gave us a person who cooperated," Henderson said.

The supplemental findings from this lead were enough to make an ineligibility decision on Feb. 27, he said. That was just two days before the start of Vandebilt's semifinal playoff game against St. Michael.

Henderson declined to release the name of the former player because "she is a minor." Contacted for an interview earlier this week, the former player-in-question declined comment.

Henderson said Jewel was ruled ineligible based entirely on the Bona Fide Change of Residence rules, which prohibit student-athletes from returning to their original residence within two years of establishing resident eligibility outside their original attendance zone.

THE FALLOUT

In regard to the LHSAA's ruling coming two days before the state semifinals, Henderson said it was unavoidable due to Vandebilt stepping forward to request an investigation just days before the playoffs.

Henderson said the late investigation request put the LHSAA in a tough position where it had to make a ruling during the playoffs. The decision led to the association removing the Lady Terriers from the court during warm-ups 34 minutes before the start of the semifinal game against St. Michael in Hammond.

"The timing for the whole thing was awful," Henderson said. "We tell our schools all the time that they are self-policing, that if they think there is a problem with a student, they need to let us know as soon as possible."

Henderson said if Vandebilt would have played and won the semifinal game against St. Michael, it would have forfeited immediately afterward.

The LHSAA said Vandebilt will have to forfeit every game in which Jewel participated in during the past two seasons. The school has been placed on administrative probation for one year until February 2014 and must pay a $200 fine.

Kathy Luke is also required to attend mandatory handbook certification classes, and Jewel is ineligible to play in any sport at Vandebilt for one year.

Capitol correspondent Jeremy Alford contributed to this article.