Honor student Andrew Lewis expected to graduate next fall from Opelousas’ Acadiana Prep. But he says his refusal to play football drew the coach’s wrath, and got him punted from the school.
July 21, 2004
Seventeen-year-old Andrew Lewis sits hunched over, his elbows on his knees and his hands and fingers intertwined into one big fist. His red T-shirt has a baseball in the center, surrounded by the words, “APS Baseball,” a souvenir from his former high school. He peers out from behind blonde bangs hanging over his eyelids.
“I love sports,” he says. “But they wanted me to be a quarterback, and I had never picked up a football in my life.”
Andrew and his parents, David and Terri Lewis, sit together in the living room of their Opelousas home. They say officials at the private Acadiana Preparatory School in Opelousas won’t allow him back in school in the fall because he won’t play football.
The new administrators won’t say why they booted Andrew, a model student and accomplished athlete who’s attended APS his whole life. They deny that the decision had anything to do with football — putting them squarely at odds with Andrew and his parents’ understanding of events.
Officials speak of a changing direction for the school. Acadiana Prep’s coach and part-owner David Barham says the school is in a transitional period, and that it’s going to experience some growing pains. “Eventually we’ve got to get everybody on the same page and agreeing on what we’re doing. Every year we’re reviewing what we’re doing, and this year some kids weren’t asked back.”
PLAY — OR PAY
David and Terri enrolled Andrew, their only child, at Acadiana Prep in preschool. David is an alumnus of the school; he graduated in 1985 when it was known as the Belmont Academy. Today he’s a network specialist at Opelousas General Hospital, and Terri is a nurse at Cardiovascular Institute of the South in Opelousas. This summer, Andrew’s working in the biomedical department of his dad’s hospital, and he’s considering a career in occupational therapy.Andrew maintains a 3.8 GPA, and has trophies attesting to his prowess in golf, baseball, and basketball for Acadiana Prep’s Eagles.
This past year, Acadiana Prep administrator Vinnie Bullara asked him to represent the school at Louisiana Boys State, a statewide event intended to teach high school students about state government.Last year, the beginning of Andrew’s junior year, Bullara and Barham, co-owners of the school, took over the operation from a board of trustees who had run the school for 20 years. Barham says there are some 300 students enrolled for the upcoming school year, with class sizes averaging about a dozen children per grade, from pre-school through 12th.
Andrew says the beginning of the school year was business as usual, but months later, after baseball season was over, Barham began asking him if he would see him on the football field for spring training. Andrew says he replied, “Coach, that’s not my sport. I don’t want to play.”
In Bullara and Barham’s first year of administration, they reinstituted the football program. Andrew didn’t play that year, so he says he was puzzled by why Barham would continue to try and get him to play, even though he wasn’t interested — a sentiment he expressed to Barham repeatedly. Andrew says that Barham eventually gave him an ultimatum: “We want you to play or else you can face not being able to come to school next year.” Barham later told Andrew that he needed to be a part of the team, even if it was just videotaping practices, and Andrew agreed.
But Barham had other duties in mind for Andrew. “When I got out there for the first practice,” Andrew says, “I ended up holding up a dummy, on the line, with no pads on, while everybody else had pads on, and I’m using a dummy, blocking them. If I was going to be out there, I should have at least had pads. But I didn’t want to be out there. It was my senior year, and I didn’t want to bothered with that.”
Andrew wasn’t alone. His friend Cody Lanclos, who had also played baseball and earned a 3.0 GPA, was on the scrimmage line with him. “In the beginning,” Cody says, “I had no problem with being a manager, helping out on the sidelines, but that’s not what they did.”
Cody says that he spoke with Barham in his office and told the coach that he didn’t want anything to do with football. “He said if I didn’t play football he had the power to kick me out of school,” Cody says. “It was a threat.”
Andrew also told the coach he wanted out. The student says Barham replied: “We are not on the same page, and if you don’t get on my page, you will be asked to leave next year.”
Terri says that when Bullara and Barham took over the school, “No where did they say football was going to be a mandatory sport.” In fact, David says, in the school’s student handbook there is no mention of students being required to play football, or any sports.
David says that Bullara contacted him one evening and told him, “I would really like your help in persuading Andrew to play football.” David told Bullara that he was allowing his son to make his own decisions. “I said, ‘If he doesn’t want to play football, Vinnie, I’m not going to force him to play on your football team.’”
Bullara then told David that Barham intended to require students to participate in the football program. “I said, ‘Vinnie, I’ve got too much money spent at that school. I’m an alumnus of the school. Don’t go there.’ And three weeks later, he went there, sent us a letter and our registration money back.”
The letter, addressed to David and Terri, came with a check for the annual $4,000 tuition. The brief note read: “This letter is to inform you that upon review, the re-enrollment application of Andrew Lewis has been denied. Enclosed please find a refund of the registration fee.” The Lewises sent a certified letter, asking for a written explanation as to why Andrew was denied. The only response they received was the receipt that the school had received the letter.
“We would like to know the reason,” Terri says.
“I would like to know the reason,” Andrew says.
Cody’s parents also received a letter denying him enrollment. “To this day I still don’t have areason,” Cody says. Cody’s father, Dexter Lanclos, says, “Right now, we’ve pretty much just washed our hands of them. We’re going to try to let Cody enjoy his senior year, and then just move on, but my youngest son will most definitely not be attending that school.”
“It’s sad that they did this to us on our senior year,” Cody says. “It’s like they’re trying to punish us. It’s sad every time I put on my letter jacket or put on my senior ring, I have to remember what happened to me before my senior year. It just hits you in the heart.”
NO ANSWERS FROM APS
Coach Barham denies that Acadiana Prep’s students are being required to play football. Barham has been involved with coaching and administrative duties at Westminster Christian Academy in Opelousas and Christian Life Academy in Baton Rouge. He’s also part owner in Ascension Christian Academy in Prairieville.
Barham contends that Andrew and Cody weren’t the only kids removed from the Acadiana Prep roster, and adds that three students who were on the football team were not admitted back to school. “We didn’t kick anybody out,” he says. “We didn’t expel those kids. We just felt that they would be better off if they didn’t come back.” Barham would not disclose the number of students denied re-admission for the upcoming school year.
Barham also declined to specify the reasons that Andrew and Cody weren’t allowed back. “I don’t see the point in getting into that kind of stuff in the media,” he says. “We make administrative decisions that I won’t go and discuss publicly. I feel like it’s a private matter between us and them.
“A change in scenery was something that was good for both parties,” he adds. “Anytime you go through a change in ownership, there’s going to be a change in views and a change in the way things are done, and it’s usually hardest on the people who are used to things being done the other way.”
Barham says that while the school has focused on academics and has had sports programs in the past, there’s an increased concentration on athletics and a new emphasis on spirituality. He says focusing on academics, athletics, and “a spiritual foundation” will help develop “well-rounded kids.”
Before taking over the school, Barham says Acadiana Prep “was not a Christian school at all. We feel like everything is based on biblical foundations, like what our nation was built on. We don’t get into teaching religion. We are a bible-based school. We use that as our foundation.” The school is not affiliated with a church.
Even though Andrew was a straight-A student and an accomplished athlete, two of the three qualities the school is trying to instill, Barham says the decision to not let Andrew back in school was not based on any religious or spiritual issues. “He’s not a bad kid at all,” Barham says, “It’s nothing like that. “
So why was Andrew exiled?
“There’s no point in slinging mud back and forth,” Barham says. “We’re not going to discuss these kids and their families. We just thought it was better for them to go somewhere else, and football was not the reason. That’s all I can tell you.”
FLAP RECALLS UL CONTROVERSY
Rex Kipps knows this story all too well. “I’m proud of the parents for standing up for their kids and saying, ‘Look, they made a decision, and we’re going to stick by them,’” he says of the APS matter. “Today a lot of parents won’t do that. But it touches me a little bit closer than it probably would other people.”
Back in 1996, when UL Lafayette was still USL and Nelson Stokley was the head coach for the Ragin’ Cajuns football team, Kipps was an assistant football coach for the team’s defensive line. It’s a job he’d held for 11 years.
Kipps’ son Kyle was a senior linebacker and tight end on Comeaux High School’s Spartans football team. But in all of his years of playing, and even in his position with UL, Kipps never steered his son toward UL, and he says there didn’t seem to be any interest on UL’s part anyway. “No one saw him play his senior year of football but me.”
But other schools were interested in Kyle — LSU, Alabama, University of Florida, and Ole Miss courted him heavily. Every school but Florida offered him a full scholarship. “USL never recruited Kyle until the last week or so,” Kipps says. “Then they came in and made a push. These other schools had recruited Kyle for over a year.” Kipps says UL offered Kyle a scholarship about four days before the signing date.
And in those few days, Kipps began to feel the heat at his job. “It came down that if Kyle would have left the state of Louisiana, as I was told, nothing would happen to me,” he says. “Like I’ve said before, it’s Kyle’s decision. It’s his life. We raised him to make his own decisions. That’s what Coach Stokley told me to do, tell him to go to Ole Miss or Alabama, and I wouldn’t do that.”
Stokley, now retired from football and owner of Pete’s on Johnston St., remembers the conversation with Kipps a little differently. “I think I told him it would probably be best if he went out of state,” he says. “But I never told him he had to do this or he had to do that. I never got involved with where he should or shouldn’t go. I never got involved with the family’s or Kyle’s decision.”
Kipps never told his son about the pressure at work. “He was the one who worked his butt off and made a goal for himself,” Kipps says of Kyle. “He had heard me talk about recruiting before, that a lot of people will tell you to go certain places, but that decision has to be yours. You’re going to be there by yourself, and it has to be a place that you feel like you want to be. When a young kid grows up hearing that, you have to respect him for his decision.”
Kyle decided on LSU. Soon after, Kipps was fired as assistant coach.
“I know there was a lot of pressure put on Nelson from higher up,” Kipps says.
Stokley says he wasn’t pressured from above to fire Kipps. “I handled the football program,” he says, “and I did what was best for the program. No one put any pressure on me. Some people were concerned when Kyle decided to go to LSU, but that didn’t affect me in what I did.
“A lot of the alumni were concerned with what with happened,” adds Stokley. “I thought it was best for all of us, after what happened, that we parted ways. I just felt that it was in everybody’s best interest — Rex’s and the football program’s — that he move on and just get another job.”
“The whole story has never come out,” Kipps says. “The story was that there was a misunderstanding, and that’s not the truth. The truth of the matter is — and always has been — that I was let go because my son went to LSU.”
Kipps sued Stokley, UL President Ray Authement, Athletic Director Nelson Schexnayder, and James Caillier, president of the board of trustees for Louisiana State Colleges and Universities. “I think the world of USL for the opportunity I had for 11 years,” Kipps says. “I just didn’t like the notion of someone dictating to me what I had to do with my son, when it was his decision.”
Kipps eventually lost the lawsuit. The school successfully argued in court that Kyle’s decision to play for LSU and the subsequent firing of his father was justified, since it could have an adverse effect on alumni relations and on the university’s ability to recruit.
Kipps now works in the oilfields, where he’s been since he was fired from UL. “Today,” he says, “I’m tickled to death that Kyle went to LSU. He started for four years, played three bowl games and won the Sugar Bowl.” Kyle later went to play for the Tampa Bay Buccaneers for two summers. He recently hung up his helmet and moved to Baton Rouge.
Through it all, the pressure from his employer, his termination, and a lawsuit, Kipps says he has no regrets. “I’ve dealt with kids all my life,” he says. “I was in coaching for 19 years. There’s so much pressure put on kids to make the right decision and to do what’s best. As a parent there was one decision I had to make, not to worry about myself, but to worry about my son and my family.
“For anyone to put that kind of pressure on a parent, or a kid, and try to influence them through their parents is ridiculous. Sports are meant to be enjoyed. It shouldn’t come down to people threatening your job, your security, and your family. That’s what happened.
“But I miss something that I really love — coaching. That was a decision I had to make, that my family comes before my job. I wanted my son to be happy, and he ended up being happy. That’s all that mattered to me.”
PREP HAS UPPER HAND
When it comes to Andrew Lewis’ situation, Gary Reed of the Louisiana Department of Education says that the Lewises’ hands may be tied. Reed says that when a parent places a child in a private school, they are entering into a contract with a private entity, to abide by a certain criteria. “When you go to a private school,” he says, “you’re submitting yourself to their set of standards. Parents relinquish certain rights when they send their child to a private school.”
Reed says there’s no requirement that a private school spell out its admissions policy in writing, only that it have an open admission policy that doesn’t discriminate on the basis of race. For their part, the Lewises actually never signed a written contract with the school.
Joe Cook, executive director for ACLU of Louisiana, agrees with Reed. “It’s buyer beware when you put your kids in a private school.”
David Lewis is still considering legal action, despite the apparent uphill battle. “I feel like there’s restitution,” he says angrily. “If I have my way, I’m going to hammer the whole school in the ground.”
Andrew has enrolled at Beau Chene High School in Arnaudville. “This is going to be his senior year,” Terri says. “He can’t even walk down the graduation aisle with the people he’s been going to school with since he was three. When we decided for him to go to Prep, that was the intention, that he would graduate there.
“He’s an honor student,” she adds. “He’s never had a discipline problem, ever, and we can’t go back because he won’t play football.”
“I have a 3.8 GPA,” Andrew repeats. “I play three sports. I got along with all the teachers and all the students. Never had any problems. I don’t know what more they want.”