This past week has been a very difficult week to be the Sports Editor of the Tri-Parish Times.
The hours were tough – close to 60 were logged in total. The phone stayed glued to my ear, and as soon as we finished writing one story, the news shifted and we needed to start working on another.
Such is the case, we suppose, when the top sports story in the state of Louisiana takes place right in the middle of your own backyard.
As you’ll read throughout the pages of our sports section this week, several members of the Destrehan High School football coaching staff were implicated, suspended and criminally charged after they illegally accessed password-protected practices on the South Lafourche football team’s HUDL account.
For those of you confused, HUDL is a website that football coaches in the business use to exchange film amongst one another. It’s also a place where coaches upload film for their own players to view and see.
The story started as nothing more than the suspicion of a few coaches, but grew into a national event that was featured on the likes of USA Today, Fox News and other national outlets.
The details within our lead story are exclusive to the Tri-Parish Times – South Lafourche principal Gaye Cheramie blessed us with a tell-all interview that details the actions of the week on a blow-by-blow basis.
But even with all of the information at-hand, the logical sports fan still will have a slew of questions about how this all unfolded.
For starters, nothing about the situation adds up.
A total of five assistant coaches were implicated, charged and suspended in this investigation. According to the Lafourche Parish Sheriff’s Office, the assistant coaches also admitted to using the information they obtained in making the team’s game plan to beat South Lafourche.
But while this was all going on, Wildcats head football coach Stephen Robicheaux isn’t implicated in any way, nor charged with any wrongdoing.
The Tri-Parish Times trusts the work of the local authorities in levying charges. We have 100 percent support and trust for everything that is told to us within the investigation. But at the same time, I’ve been around a lot of football locker rooms in my close to eight years as a sports journalist at both Louisiana State University and now in Houma.
Never in my time around a football team have I seen assistant coaches viewing film or making a game plan without a head coach nearby. At the absolute least, the head coach had the final say in either approving or denying the plan the team would put in place for a given week. It just doesn’t happen. High school athletics have become too competitive in today’s world. The head coach is the pilot. He usually drives the ship. Nine times out of 10, he is the person that has full control over everything that goes into strategy within a game plan for a particular week.
Maybe at Destrehan, things are different.
But then again, maybe it’s not. It’s worth at least asking the question.
Stephen Robicheaux is an amazing head football coach. He’s a multi-time state champion. That doesn’t happen by accident – the dude knows what he’s doing on the sidelines. His success should be respected and applauded. When he briefly left the Wildcats’ program a few years ago, the team went from state champion so cellar dweller. Now that he’s back, the team is a powerhouse yet again.
But if we are to believe the LHSAA’s ruling, we are admitting that the coach had absolutely no input in the team’s game plan against South Lafourche. Likewise, we are to believe that Robicheaux asked no questions when he watched his team prepare for formations that the Tarpons had never used in a varsity game. By believing the LHSAA’s ruling, we are believing that the head coach had 100 percent trust and handed 100 percent control to his assistant coaches within everything pertaining to the team’s scheming against South Lafourche – a key district rival.
The reality is that one of two things happened at Destrehan and neither scenario is particularly good in the eyes of this humble journalist.
The first scenario is that maybe Robicheaux truly didn’t know anything about his assistant coaches’ sins and he was kept 100 percent in the dark about the things going on within his locker room. If that is true, how much control does the coach have over his staff? The answer to that question is none, apparently.
The second scenario is that the coach did have a hand in the misdeeds, but was able to spare the LHSAA’s hammer.
We may never know the answer to this question – the real shame of it all. But there are enough passionate people on the Tarpons’ end of things to ensure that the full truth will be told before this is all said and done.
The powers that be at Destrehan aren’t answering questions. Robicheaux went so far as to praise the efforts of the five coaches suspended and charged following Friday night’s blowout win against H.L. Bourgeois.
Instead of apologizing for the yolk that got smeared all over the face of his school, Robicheaux refused to acknowledge the investigation nor anything that happened this past week, saying that he only wanted to focus on football and the game against the Braves. Instead of publicly denouncing those who break the rules, he defended those in violation and said that his team is playing the rest of the season for the suspended coaches.
Imagine that – a group of kids rallying around and playing for a group of guys who are admitted cheats within their profession – guys who are suspended because of their actions.
Boy, isn’t that rich?
No matter how the cookie crumbles, nor how one feels about this particular situation, the truth is that the players on both teams were cheated.
On the South Lafourche side, the Tarpons were denied an opportunity – a chance to play maybe the best team in Louisiana on a level playing field.
The Destrehan game was homecoming for South Lafourche. It was a night that the team’s seniors were supposed to remember for the rest of their lives – whether in victory or defeat.
But instead of being remembered for competition, it’s remembered for HUDL accounts, news headlines and scandal.
On the Destrehan side, their players are also victims of the friendly fire swirling around the landscape.
The Wildcats are a hell of a team – they may roll on and win the Class 5A State Championship.
But no matter what Destrehan does the rest of the season, questions are going to remain about the team.
Fans ignorant to the facts will label the players as cheaters – a fact that couldn’t be farther from the truth.
They will also question the validity of any accomplishment the team earns the rest of the way – a scarlet letter that the Wildcats’ players do not deserve and should not have to endure.
Since this ruling has gone down, I’ve already heard opposing coaches and players doubt the Wildcats and question whether the South Lafourche game was the only time that something like this took place.
I’d heard rumor and other thoughts that maybe this was not an isolated incident.
I don’t believe those thoughts, but they are out there.
But unfortunately, in this world, too many coaches are motivated by the wrong reasons.
This has been a long week for us all, but it’s been a week that we can all use to teach us lessons about just how imperfect the world of sports really are.
But unfortunately, it stays that way because when things happen, the guilty party clams up and refuses to answer questions about his/her misdeeds.
Whether you knew about your assistant coaches’ actions is irrelevant, Mr. Robicheaux, those men are YOUR employees.
It’s time to take the mic and answer questions about what your staff did.
Pretending like this never happened won’t work.
This is not something the people at South Lafourche will forget about anytime soon.