LHSAA ponders next step in Clement Mubungirwa eligibility case

One day after the Louisiana legislature gave its final approval to a bill designed to help Episcopal’s Clement Mubungirwa gain an added year of athletic eligibility, the Louisiana High School Athletic Association was pondering what the legislation will mean.

The state House approved Senate Bill 633 by a 52-28 margin, just one more vote than the minimum needed for it to pass, during Thursday’s session. The legislation would require the LHSAA to go to third-party arbitration for eligibility cases. It now goes to Gov. Bobby Jindal to be signed into law.

“One of the issues we have is that nobody has defined exactly what arbitration is in this case,” LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson said on Friday. “There are different kinds of arbitration you can have. What kind of arbitration would it be, who would be involved and how it would be handled are still in question.”

Mubungirwa turns 19 in July and is ineligible under LHSAA rules, which state that only students who turn 19 on or after Sept. 1 are eligible. The LHSAA’s executive committee rejected an Episcopal appeal for Mubungirwa in March, which led to the legislation.

Also hanging in the balance is whether or not the LHSAA’s executive committee will grant Episcopal a second appeal for Mubungirwa.

Henderson said a decision on Episcopal’s request for a second appeal will likely be made next week. That appeal and how the LHSAA would handle third-party arbitrations could both be on the agenda for the executive committee’s summer meeting June 5-6 at the LHSAA office.

Neil Abramson, D-New Orleans, and the house sponsor of the SB633 from Dan Claitor, D-Baton Rouge, told legislators Thursday that some sort of review process was needed. Abramson, an attorney and former Episcopal quarterback, noted not everyone can afford an attorney to make their case against the LHSAA.

Mubungirwa and his family came to the United States from a refugee camp in Uganda when he was 12 through the local work of Catholic Charities. He was enrolled as a middle school student despite having very little formal education.

He was required to repeat two grades while catching up academically, first at St. Aloysius and then at Episcopal but is on track to graduate next spring. Mubungirwa played soccer growing up and has played soccer and football at Episcopal.

The 5-foot-9, 170-pound Mubungirwa rushed for 1,358 yards and 19 TDs last fall in his first year as a starting running back and scored 33 goals and had 11 assists to help the Knights advance to the quarterfinals in Division III soccer.

“Episcopal has submitted a request for a second appeal, and they’ve submitted some information to us,” Henderson said. “A second appeal is granted when there’s enough new information submitted that warrant another appeal. I’ve spoken with our president (Ouachita Principal Todd Guice) about this and a decision on that would have to be made within the next week so the appeal can be included in the agenda for the summer meeting.”

The LHSAA has never waived or altered its 19-year-old rule, which dates to the mid-1950s.

Henderson said questions about arbitration also will be on the summer meeting agenda.

“This is something for the executive committee to look at,” Henderson said.

“We’ll need to get some legal opinions on what this law will require and decide how to move forward.”