Baton Rouge, LA (FOX44) — It was a home run of a verdict for Livonia High School.
Livonia's baseball team is back in the 3A state tournament, one week after being banned because of a player who was deemed ineligible. The Wildcats will travel to #31 Kaplan on Saturday. The winner enters the bracket at #2 Evangel (Shreveport).
"Our kids don't care who they play or where they play, as long as they get to put the uniforms on and play the game," said Livonia head coach Jason Lemoine. "And if they have their careers ended, these seniors, they want it to be ended on the field, and not because a higher power told them that they can't play."
Judge Todd Hernandez approved a temporary restraining order agreed to by lawyers representing Livonia and the LHSAA that gave the Wildcats a spot in the field.
"My kids just want to play baseball," Lemoine stated. "They love the game, bunch of blue-collar guys that's played so hard and practiced hard for 11 months out of 12."
Livonia was represented by what Pointe Coupee Parish School Board member James Cline referred to as a "dream team" of lawyers, including former State Sen. Rob Marionneaux, current State Sen. Rick Ward (D-Port Allen), Carrol Devillier, and Jeremy Lacombe.
"This is the best outcome that we could hope for," Marionneaux said, "and I think everyone has reached a compromise to allow these young men to compete."
Thursday morning, Hernandez ruled that the 19th Judicial District did not have jurisdiction in the case, cancelling a morning hearing. Livonia appealed in writs to the Louisiana Supreme Court and the 1st Circuit Court of Appeals.
"At 4:00 p.m., The Supreme Court cast a vote of 4-2, and about simultaneous with that, the Louisiana 1st Circuit reversed itself after it had already ruled three times on this case," Marionneaux mentioned.
The LHSAA penalized Livonia's baseball and football teams for using a freshman who moved with his mother to Pointe Coupee Parish.
"You know, they ruled on a transfer rule, which kinda has us a little mind-boggled," Lemoine said, "because he didn't really transfer, as an incoming freshman. He never played for any other high school. He started his freshman, his high school career at our school, and he lives about a mile and a half down the road over here."
Both teams were forced to vacate victories, including the football team's state runner-up finish. Livonia would also have to forfeit any gate receipts earned during the football playoffs.
The Wildcats ended their regular season last week, but continued to practice once appeals were filed on their behalf. Lemoine said it has been a challenge to keep the spirits up of both the seniors and the player who was ruled ineligible.
"Being a freshman, you know, you can imagine a 14-year-old kid feeling like all the weight is on his shoulders," he stated.
"It's been kinda hard on him. Our kids have been a little more positive towards it than I thought they would be. I thought they might give him a hard time, but they've been receptive to him, seeing him as one of theirs, one of their teammates, and is kind of going through this with him."
The Wildcats have traditionally had a strong baseball team. Asked if they need to win a championship given the second chance, Merionneaux replied, "they darn sure better!"