LHSAA praises decision to drop charges against football officials

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association issued the following press release Oct. 17:

BATON ROUGE, LA (Oct. 17, 2013) — The Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) was pleased to learn that Covington Mayor Mike Cooper and Covington Police Chief Tim Lentz announced this afternoon that they will request the District Attorney to drop the charges of public intimidation against high school officials James Radcliffe and Chris Gambino.

These two dedicated football officials were arrested Friday night, October 11, 2013, during the football game between Mandeville and St. Paul’s, at St. Paul’s. The officials were charged with public intimidation and released from jail on Saturday morning after posting bail. The incident was the result of spectators on the sideline crowding the chain crew and the officials attempted to move the spectators away from the field. When the officials requested the help of a uniformed Covington police officer to control the crowd, they were arrested.

Louisiana High School Athletic Association rules, as well as National Federation of State High School Associations (NFHS) rules, authorize the game officials to address off-the-field spectator problems which interfere with the orderly process of a contest. This rule is designed to provide for the safety of all involved: the contestants, the coaches, the officials, and the spectators to ensure fair play.

In response to the question regarding the actions of the officials, Keith Alexander, LHSAA Assistant Executive Director and Director of Officials, states, “The officials were acting by rule in maintaining the integrity of the game. By rule, the officials have the authority to rule promptly and in the spirit of good sportsmanship on any situation during the contest. The referee’s decisions are final in all matters pertaining to the game. In this case, the officials were totally correct in the administration of the rule.”

These officials were attempting to enforce the rules of the game and protect the safety of the persons present. The LHSAA supports these officials and their actions.

LHSAA Executive Director Kenny Henderson responded to the announcement that the charges would be dropped by stating, “The LHSAA is pleased to learn of the quick and decisive action by the City of Covington officials in requesting the dismissal of these charges. The LHSAA is proud to have officials such as Jim Radcliffe and Chris Gambino who serve the youth of our great state. It is unfortunate that these experienced officials had to endure the events of the last week. However, being the truly dedicated persons that they are, they will continue to serve the youth by continuing to officiate high school sports and for that we are grateful. I also wish to thank the Mayor and Chief of Police of Covington for their swift and honest appraisal of the events.”

The Louisiana High School Athletic Association is dedicated to the safe and fair competition among our member schools. We will continue to require our game officials in every sport to place the safety of all involved in any contest at the forefront of their duties. The LHSAA is very fortunate to have dedicated men and women as game officials whose goal is to ensure safe and fair competition.

About the LHSAA
The LHSAA is a private entity that provides and regulates interscholastic athletic programs that promote fair and equitable competition among its member schools that is in the best interest of the student-athlete. For more information about the LHSAA, visit its website at www.lhsaa.org.

Read Clarion Herald sports editor Ron Brocato's story in the Oct. 19 issue here. It was written before the charges were dropped and makes several salient points:

Who’s the boss?

Sports officials have no intention of becoming celebrities or newsmakers. Their jobs are to oversee athletic events and to enforce the rules of the sport for the good of participants and spectators.

Officials are the sole judges and jury regarding what transpires between the lines. They are the final word because they know the rules of the sport; that is, unless you are officiating a football game in Covington or Mandeville.

Two local and well-respected officials, doing their duties in the best interest of St. Paul’s and Mandeville high schools during the third period of a football game on Oct. 11, were arrested by a Covington police officer for soliciting his aid to help them do their jobs. The policeman’s son is a member of Mandeville’s football team.

At every level of competition, whether it be professional, collegiate or high school, where law enforcement officers are detailed, there is a distinct separation of power between the men wearing a badge and the men wearing stripes.

Officials are in charge of everything that pertains to the competition from the moment they step onto the field or court until the final horn. Detail policemen are responsible for crowd control and security, and that includes the security and protection of the officials.

If a situation arises where fans are crowding the sidelines and impeding the movement of the sideline official, as there was in the game between St. Paul’s and Mandeville, and the officials ask an attending police officer for assistance in moving the spectators back, it is the duty of that cop to do so. Instead, this particular policeman used the power of his position to goad the officials into a confrontation that led to their arrests and subsequent fines for alleged “intimidation.”

The spectators, claiming to be equipment managers, were obnoxious and creating a nuisance on the sideline.

LHSAA associate director, Keith Alexander, who oversees the state’s high school officials, said, “The officials were having some problems with the chain crew and also some equipment managers or some other people with Mandeville,” Alexander said. “The officials were basically told by the police department that they needed to get the game going and not worry about what’s going on with the fans. At that time (the referee) said he would just get the home team management involved. That’s when the officer said, ‘No, I will be involved in it now.’”

This cop was out of line.

Ron Brocato can be reached at rbrocato@clarionherald.org.

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