Teen refugee gets help after eligibility denied
BATON ROUGE - A Baton Rouge teen who was denied football eligibility at Episcopal High his senior year has found support at the state Capitol.
Clement Mubungirwa will be too old at the start of the season in the fall and now some lawmakers want to bypass Louisiana High School Athletic Association rules and allow the refugee from Africa a chance to play.
"There's not a better story of success in the United States," said Sen. Dan Claitor, (R) - Baton Rouge. "We congratulate you."
After a life of many struggles, Mubungirwa's counting on lawmakers to help him with the latest.
"The support I'm getting, that's all from playing the sport," Mubungirwa said. "And people who know about me, know all about me, my attitude in practice, my love for people, respect I show, it's all because of that game."
He's not allowed to play because he'll be 19 before the first of September.
"Every group that has athletics typically has an age cut-off," said Kenny Henderson, LHSSA executive director.
Kevin Pond fought the age rule 20 years ago. The state legislature got involved and eventually he was granted a hardship that allowed him to play at 19. He testified in front of the Senate Education Committee on behalf of Mubungirwa.
"I think it's absolutely ridiculous that LHSSA doesn't look at each individual case and understand the case," Pond said.
Mubungirwa's journey has seen the ravages of war in his native Congo, where his father was murdered by rebels. He escaped to Baton Rouge with his family. He struggled his first year and was held back, leading to this showdown over the age-limit. Whether or not he's allowed to play next season, he's still determined to live his American dream.
"Hopefully they make the right decision," Mubungirwa said. "And whatever happens, I'll leave it up to God."
A bill that would bring in a third party arbitrator to decide age rule cases passed out of committee Wednesday. It headed to the Senate for debate.