The last place I expected to be Friday afternoon was standing outside of an empty school bus in a Hammond parking lot.
But there I was – just me, a few reporters and a handful of photographers.
We stood there and we patiently waited amidst the cold and the wind. We readied ourselves for what was about to come next – one of the most memorable moments of my young journalistic career.
Just minutes before our trek to the empty bus came the shocking news that is now common knowledge to any Tri-parish sporting fan: the Vandebilt Catholic girls’ basketball team had lost its day-long battle in court.
Instead of being inside the adjacent University Center for a Class 4A State Semifinal game, a Baton Rouge judge ruled that the Lady Terriers’ sophomore guard Jewel Triggs was ineligible.
That meant the team’s destination wasn’t a meeting with St. Michael in the semifinals. They were instead now eliminated and sent back home to Houma.
The buzz surrounding this bus was astonishing – even for this reporter that has covered LSU football during a national championship season. Someone not familiar with the specifics of the situation would have been able to quickly identify that something significant was going on.
There just was that tension and that intensity in the air.
After about a 10-15 minute wait, there was finally some action.
From the distance, we could see the first Vandebilt players heading from their locker room down a long, straight sidewalk path toward the bus.
As the players slumbered deeper down the concrete path, it was easy to see that a lot of them were either crying or had been crying.
As they made the loop from the sidewalk into the parking lot and headed toward the bus, the Lady Terriers encountered family and classmates who had now accumulated around the massive vehicle.
Everyone gathered wanted answers.
No one on the team had much to offer to appeal the inquiring minds.
What resulted from the indecision was an outpouring of raw emotion.
“We worked so hard – we earned our spot here,” one Vandebilt player said tearfully while slumbered inside her father’s outstretched arms. “And they are just going to give Salmen our spot? Why? Why are they doing this? How are they doing this?”
Statements like the one above were frequent and easily audible from all directions surrounding the bus.
Then, after about 15 minutes of this outpouring of emotion, Vandebilt Catholic coach Kathy Luke emerged down the sidewalk and slumbered toward the bus.
The longtime Lady Terriers coach trekked down the hill in an all-black windbreaker. In one arm was a bag – presumably filled with the coaching essentials. In the other was a covered coat hanger that carried the coaching attire that was never able to be worn on this day.
Luke’s demeanor was different from that of her players.
Where the Lady Terriers’ players seemed overwhelmed with anger and sadness, Luke seemed stoic – almost as though she was in shock.
In the more than a decade that I’ve kept tabs on Vandebilt girls’ basketball, it was a demeanor I’d never seen from the coach.
After Luke spent about 20 minutes exchanging pleasantries with the media and families gathered around the bus, the team went its separate ways.
Some players rode home with their families. Others loaded up the bus and made the long trek back home – one that occurred without an opportunity to play for the state championship.
Just as Salmen tipped off its game with St. Michael, the bus quietly pulled out of the parking lot and got back on the lonely road home.
Now that the scene of Friday afternoon has been painted, it’s a good time for this humble writer to finally be given the space and opportunity to give an honest opinion about the events that took place in the past week.
Let me start out by saying that after hearing hours of gossip and speculation from both Vandebilt and Salmen’s supporters, I honestly do not have a clue whether or not Lady Terriers sophomore guard Jewel Triggs should or should not be eligible by the LHSAA’s rules.
Does the kid live in Thibodaux like the LHSAA suspects? I haven’t a clue. Does she live in Houma? It beats me. Like anyone else, I have opinions. But I don’t know. I’ve never been to the Triggs household.
It’d be ignorant of me to speculate one way or the other without knowing. Guess what that means? It means it’s also ignorant and cruel of all of the other so-called experts around town I’ve heard in the past week who claim to know everything about this entire ordeal.
Aside from that spat of anger, I also can say that I have no knowledge about whether Vandebilt did or didn’t know about Triggs’ alleged home situation.
I don’t know if Luke and her staff knew this could potentially be a problem.
If they did, obviously, things change and the penalties in the case are very much warrented. But I cannot say definitively one way or the other – I just don’t know.
So with a lack of knowledge at my disposal, I will not make a journalist’s opinion on anything involving this situation.
But I will take off the shield of journalism and take a stance as a human being and a Tri-parish native.
And that stance is that my heart breaks for the Vandebilt players.
As I watched the young ladies shed tears Friday afternoon, it was hard to not feel sorrow for these kids.
No matter what did or didn’t happen in this entire ordeal, Vandebilt’s players didn’t deserve for their season to end the way that it did.
To be on the floor warming up before a big game, only to be told minutes before tip-off that it’s all over? That’s a shame.
To play the best game of your season on a Monday night, only to have it all taken away without losing a game? Whether Triggs is eligible or not – that’s also a shame.
This weekend, St. Thomas More and Salmen will go to battle in Monroe to decide who the Class 4A State Champion is for the 2012-13 season.
One team will win and be crowed champions for this season.
But even without the rings, banners and glory, the Lady Terriers that boarded that bus for the final time Friday afternoon deserve a little credit, too.
Those kids didn’t have anything to do with anything that occurred inside of a courtroom in the past week.
The players deserved a better outcome than they received.
They at least deserved to have their season end on the court.