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BASTROP, La. - A pair of former Port Sulphur football players who became part of Bastrop High School's championship team last year will have their 2006 suspensions reduced from the entire season to only two games, Louisiana High School Athletic Association commissioner Tommy Henry said in a new ruling on the matter Friday.
Fines totaling $14,500 against Bastrop High, which has been stripped of the 2005 Class 4A title, also will be reduced to $7,500, Henry's ruling stated.
Hurricane evacuees Randall Mackey and Jamal Recasner were initially ruled ineligible because then-assistant coaches picked them up and drove them to Morehouse Parish in northeastern Louisiana after Hurricane Katrina destroyed the players' south Louisiana town, violating state high school recruiting rules.
Morehouse Parish Schools superintendent Richard Hartley wrote to Henry this week, asking him to reconsider whether the suspensions for this season were too harsh for the student-athletes who may have been led astray by adults during a difficult time in their lives.
"They're good kids. They've gone through enough. We're pleased the commissioner has reconsidered this because these kids had their lives turned totally upside down," Hartley said. "Being able to play football gave them some stability in life. They feel like they belong in the community and they're happy in the community now."
Mackey, entering his junior year, is a quarterback, while Recasner, a running back, is in his senior year.
James Brown, another former Port Sulphur player who spent last season with Bastrop, but has returned to south Louisiana, also will be able to play for South Plaquemines High after a two-game suspension. Two other former Port Sulphur players involved in the alleged improper transfer to Bastrop have graduated.
The new ruling also requires players and coaches involved to issue public apologies. And Bastrop's football program will be on administrative probation through 2009, the ruling said.
Henry said he was willing to reconsider his initial ruling on the players' eligibility after reflecting on their hardships caused by the hurricane.
"I know that they were one of the many, many unfortunate victims of the worst natural catastrophe in our nation's history and perhaps I slipped and let myself forget that when I issued my penalty ruling," Henry wrote in his ruling. "I can understand why they called out for help and accepted it from anyone who could and would reach out to pull them from their desperation and despair."
The original full-season suspensions came down after Henry concluded that Mackey and Recasner had knowingly signed false reports claiming someone other than an assistant coach had taken them to Morehouse Parish. But Hartley contended the students were only following the lead of assistant coaches and some parents who also signed the false reports.
"While it was the wrong thing to do, I recognize that they had been placed in a most difficult situation by two of our faculty coaches and that adults did not set the correct examples for them and led them astray when it came time to face a moment of truth - a teachable moment in their lives," Henry's ruling said.
Morehouse Parish Schools officials still will have to appeal if they want Bastrop's state title, its first in football in nearly 80 years, reinstated.
Hartley said school officials will not file an emergency appeal now that Mackey and Recasner may play this season. He said school officials will review the new ruling before deciding how to deal with the question of the revoked championship.
"The biggest outcry was, 'Let's do what we can do for the kids first,'" Hartley said.
Hartley said Henry "never asked us not to appeal. He's never asked us anything. This is just his decision after I sent him a letter asking him to reconsider" the students' plight.
The initial ruling caused outrage in Bastrop, where people thought their team was being punished for essentially coming to the aid of two students looking for a new home and a place to play the game they love after their homes were wiped out.
And high school football is among the more popular pastimes in northern Louisiana.
In Bastrop, sellout crowds of about 5,000 are common at high school games, Hartley said.
"I think the community is going to be happy to hear these kids are not going to lose their entire season," Hartley said. "Our evacuee students have endeared themselves in the community."