Panel reduces OPW’s penalties

New Orleans-based O.P. Walker High got recruiting-related sanctions reduced in an appeal, while four schools, including two from Baton Rouge and one from New Orleans, were approved for membership during Wednesday’s Louisiana High School Athletic Association executive committee meeting.

The executive committee meeting helped kick off the annual three-day LHSAA convention at the Crowne Plaza Hotel & Conference Center.

A full day of activities begins at 9 a.m. Thursday. The event concludes with a general assembly meeting/vote set for 9 a.m. Friday.

“Our feeling is that we did nothing wrong,” OPW Principal Mary Laurie said after the appeal. “But at least with the revised ruling our children get to play (in the playoffs), and it’s all about the children.”

Controversial convention topics, including two proposals that would divide the association into separate playoff divisions for nonselect (traditional public schools) and select (private, charter, magnet, laboratory and dual-curriculum schools), were not discussed, other than in a brief review of agenda items.

Lee High and Mentorship Academy were the Baton Rouge schools approved for membership, effective July 1. Lee, a longtime LHSAA member, had to reapply for membership after reopening in the fall.

Dr. M.L. King Charter School for Science and Technology was the New Orleans school approved for membership. Winnsboro’s Family Community Christian School also was approved.

None of the new schools can play for championship honors in 2013-14, based on LHSAA by-laws. All approval is contingent on LHSAA site visits of schools, though Lee will provide an exception since a new school complex will be built, starting later this year.

Two other New Orleans schools that applied for membership were not considered because they failed to attend a required new school workshop. Those schools are New Orleans Military and Maritime Academy and International High School.

The 90-minute appeal by OPW came as the result of recruiting-related sanctions issued by LHSAA Exective Director Kenny Henderson in documents dated Jan. 14.

The investigation revolved around two ninth-grade basketball players who wound up at Edna Karr and sought eligibility there after briefly being at O.P. Walker in August 2012.

An investigation led to allegations O. Perry Walker coach Brian Gibson and assistant Wilfred Antoine were involved in transporting the student-athletes to the school and purchasing school uniforms for them.

Henderson’s original ruling placed the school on restrictive probation, which would have banned the Chargers from the boys basketball playoffs this year.

The school was also fined $2,500. After listening to testimony and seeing documentation from an internal investigation, Henderson reduced the sanctions to disciplinary probation, which will allow OPW to compete in the playoffs. The fine was reduced to $1,000.

The school’s athletic director, Tarence Davis, and ex-OPW Principal Shan Williams Sr., now a supervisor for the Recovery School District O.P. Walker is now part of, conducted the internal probe late last week. Williams is a former executive committee member.

Laurie and Davis told the committee they were unaware their school was the object of an investigation until the letter detailing the sanctions was received.

“We still maintain we did nothing wrong,” Davis said. “I think we were able to prove those parents (of the students-athletes) did indeed fabricate a story, and they did tell untruths to LHSAA investigators.

“It was a shame that we had to come here and defend the integrity of our children when their children indeed told lies.”

New school notes

Lee High Principal Averil Sanders Jr. called Wednesday’s membership approval a key step in the school’s plans to build a sports program.

“We’re doing intramural sports right now, waiting to get to this point,” Sanders said. “We’re going to take this process one step at a time and may look at doing some subvarsity track and golf this spring.”

Sanders currently has one coach on staff, golf coach/athletic director Wayne Birch, and will be looking to add others.

Mentorship Academy, a East Baton Rouge School System-based type 1 charter school, is located in downtown Baton Rouge. Principal Brian J. Dixon said the school emcompasses two school programs.

Dixon said the schools will eventually move to separate campuses.

Dixon said LHSAA membership was sought for the science and technology part of the school. Lee and Mentorship project to be Class 2A schools. New Orleans-based MLK is projected as a Class B school.

Three other schools had their membership applications denied because their enrollments were less than the required 75-student minimum.

Thursday’s schedule

LHSAA roundtable discussions are set for 9 a.m. and 2 p.m. at the Crowne Plaza. The LHSAA roundtables will give member principals and athletic directors the chance to discuss agenda and other issues. A sports medicine-based round-table is at 10 a.m.

Duke University Director of Sports Psychology Greg A. Dale is scheduled to be the guest speaker for the annual Coca-Cola Convention Luncheon set for 11:30 a.m.

Individual class meetings for principals begin at 3:20 a.m. The executive committee will meet again at 4:30 p.m.

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