Judge orders Livonia High baseball team into playoffs

A ninth-inning bid by a group of parents trying to get Livonia High School’s baseball team into the Class 3A playoffs paid off Thursday when a state judge ordered the LHSAA to insert the team into the bracket, even though games had already begun.

District Judge Todd Hernandez left it up to Louisiana High School Athletic Association Executive Director Kenny Henderson to determine the most reasonable manner to accomplish the judge’s order.

About 90 minutes after the hearing, the LHSAA announced Livonia would play Kaplan High School on Saturday at Kaplan High.

The winner will advance to battle Evangel in the first round of the 3A playoffs in Shreveport on Monday.

The winner of that game must play the victor of the Berwick-St. Louis game no later than Thursday.

No other parts of the 3A baseball bracket will be affected by the court order.

“They’re in,” Rob Marionneaux, one of the attorneys for the Livonia parents and their student-athletes, said outside Hernandez’s 19th Judicial District courtroom. “Obviously we’re pleased to have the seniors have the opportunity to wear those uniforms one more time on the baseball field. All they wanted was the opportunity.”

The Livonia freshman declared ineligible last week by the LHSAA, which prompted the court fight, will not be allowed to play in the tournament. The parents had sued on behalf of six seniors and the freshman.

The unprecedented move will not remove any existing team from the playoffs. Livonia will essentially have a play-in game similar to the NCAA basketball tournament.

Hernandez’s order came at the end of a roller-coaster day that began with the state 1st Circuit Court of Appeal throwing out the parents’ lawsuit, then reconsidering that decision and sending the case back to Hernandez.

In its earlier ruling, the appellate court said the parents did not have the right to challenge the ruling of a private organization — the LHSAA — in which they are not members. The appeals court also noted, erroneously, that Livonia High was not a party to the suit.

After it was pointed out to the court that Livonia High and the Pointe Coupee Parish School Board had intervened in the case, the 1st Circuit sent the matter back to Hernandez for a hearing.

But after attorneys for all parties involved first met behind closed doors with Hernandez and then with each other in private, Bob Hammonds — an attorney for the School Board and school — asked the judge to prohibit the LHSAA from banning Livonia from the playoffs.

Hernandez then issued his order, which LHSAA attorney Rachael Catalanotto stressed has no bearing on the association’s rules and regulations.

The judge said he will hold a future hearing on the merits of the parents’ lawsuit and LHSAA’s opposition to it.

Last week, after declaring a Livonia freshman baseball player ineligible because of an alleged violation of LHSAA transfer rules, the association ordered Livonia to forfeit 18 baseball games and seven football games in which the ninth-grader played. The forfeited baseball games initially caused the school to be left out of the playoffs.

Hernandez, on Tuesday, issued a temporary restraining order barring the LHSAA from completing the brackets and starting the tournament, but the 1st Circuit reversed the order later that day.

The football sanctions against Livonia High included returning the 3A runner-up trophy the school won as well as gate receipts from three playoff games.

Before the forfeits, the Livonia baseball team was 22-4 and was No. 10 in the LHSAA’s unofficial power rankings for 3A.

The suit claims the LHSAA misapplied its transfer rules when it declared the Livonia freshman ineligible.

The LHSAA said the student will be required to sit out seven football games and 18 baseball games in 2014-15.