Football Legal Battle in Louisiana – Zachery v. LHSAA

May 17, 2024

By John Wendt

Opelousas, in St. Landry Parish is Louisiana’s third oldest city, but can be a tough town in which to grow-up.  It has been reported that it is the second most dangerous city in Louisiana. It has been reported that its violent crime rate is at 2,139 per 100K and property crimes with 7,256 per 100k.[1]  Crime rates can be 260% above the national average and violent crimes can be 490% above the national average.

Yet, in the midst of these challenges is Opelousas High School (OHS) which last year did the near improbable by winning the 2023 Louisiana Division II Non-Select[2] State High School Football Title Championship under the guidance of Coach Jimmy Zachery.  Zachery had attended Opelousas High School himself and went on to play football at Grambling earning Bachelor’s and Master’s degrees.  He had a distinguished coaching career at Union, Dumas, Bastrop, and East Ascension High Schools before returning to Opelousas as Head Football Coach and Athletic Director in 2020 during the Covid pandemic.[3]  In eight of the last ten seasons the Opelousas Football Team had two wins or less.   Coach Zachery brought new attitudes and opportunities for high school student athletes at Opelousas on and off the field. 

Yet, challenges still remained.  Of the fifteen football games they played before the State Championship, eleven were on the road as they compiled a 12-3 record.  Coach Zachery estimated that the team travelled over 1,800 miles to play games in the 2023 season.  One of their losses was to Cecilia High School who finished the season undefeated.  Opelousas earned the right to play Cecilia for the State Championship.[4]  Opelousas was seeded 12th going into the playoffs, won three post season games all against high seeds, beat four of the top ranked teams in the state, and culminated in a State Championship 26-13 win over Cecilia.[5]  Zachery was also named All-Metro Football Big School Coach of the Year.[6]

The last times that Opelousas played for a state championship were in 1938 and 1956 but losing both times against Minden High School.[7]  As Coach Zachery said, “This is awesome for our community. To be the first team that was able to bring a championship home (for Opelousas High) means everything,” Zachery said during his postgame comments.  He also praised his players for their dedication and determination, “To have those expectations and then get to the Dome and have that accomplished is something that few teams experience. We wanted to be champions, but we want our players to be able to do that as champions on the field and off the field as well…”[8]

The Championship also had a positive effect on the hard-hit community.  Martin McLendon, a local support said, “This game was much more about what happened on the turf. But it was about bringing people together. Coach Zachary taught our kids life skills and so we need coach our people throughout the city of Opelousas throughout St. Landry Parish if we bond together if we get along with one another we can win…”[9]   Another supported Sherell Roberts said, “It’s a great feeling to see everyone come together watching the team and support the city of Opelousas. It’s been a long time coming since we had something like this in Opelousas and this is a fantastic thing for the city…[10]

Then, at the end of February 2024 the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) vacated the title and Zachery was facing a one-year suspension over the allegations of a player-residence issue.  The impact on the community was devastating.  Matt Miguez of ESPN Southwest Louisiana said, “Everybody remembers back in December how important this was to the city of Opelousas and the environment that was inside the Caesars Superdome that day…When you have a situation like Opelousas, when you have such a big deal, and the community rallied around it so much, for it to not to be there anymore, it’s magnified this time on a whole other level.” [11]

According to a complaint filed by Zachery against LHSAA, Cecilia High School filed an initial complaint to the LHSAA the week of December 18, 2023, that resulted in an investigation. Zachery claims there was no formal notification given to Zachery, OHS, or the school administration.[12]  Then, again according to the complaint, on February 22, 2024, the executive director of the LHSAA, Eddie Bonine notified Zachery by email that OHS was required to forfeit all their 2023 games and the school and coach would be placed on probation for one year ending on December 8, 2024.[13]

On March 13, 2024, Opelousas High appealed the LHSAA’s original ruling with school district officials and Coach Zachery testifying before the LHSAA.  On March 14, 2024, the School District was notified by text message that the appeal was denied.  The LHSAA did not provide any comment on the denial.[14]  In previous years, the LHSAA would publicly publish their rulings, but that procedure has stopped in recent years under Director Eddie Bonine.[15]

On March 29, 2024, Zachery filed suit against the LHSAA and the St. Landry Parish School Board asking for a temporary restraining order, preliminary injunction, and permanent injunction based on a denial of due process.  Zachery alleged that he was never informed of the allegations, given a hearing, or given any opportunity to address the decision before Director Bonine made the decision.  Zachery is asking the court to prevent the defendants from placing the OHS, Zachery and the football team on probation or terminating their victories until Zachery has been given an opportunity to be heard in court.[16]  He is also asking the court to prevent the LHSAA from changing or altering any records from the 2023 football season.[17]

Zachery also noted that this has affected his reputation, “Right now I am being smeared all over the place and through social media. For me that’s something that has been tough to swallow. I’ve coached for 16 years and to work as hard as I have and to have these things said about me is really difficult…”[18]  It has been reported that a temporary restraining order preventing the LSHAA from enforcing its ruling was granted on April 5, 2024.[19]

[1] Joe Cunningham, These 2 Louisiana Cities Are Some of the Most Dangerous in the US, KPEL 96.5 (2024), (last visited Apr 12, 2024).

[2] There is some confusion over what is a “Select” and “Non-Select” high school in Louisiana.  It appeared originally that “select schools” are private and “non-select schools” are public, but there is some confusion over these designations.  See Ken Trahan, To Select or Not to Select, That Is the LHSAA Question, Crescent City Sports (2023), (last visited Apr 24, 2024). 

[3] Zachery v. Louisiana High School Athletic Association and St. Landry Parish School Board, Petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Injunctive Relief, Docket Number C-2400686, 27th Judicial District Court, Parish of St. Landry, State of Louisiana, April 01, 2024, (last visited Apr 10, 2024).

[4] Bobby Ardoin, Opelousas Road Journey Continues In The Dome, St. Landry Now Online Newspaper (Dec. 6, 2023), (last visited Apr 12, 2024).  It should be noted that Mr. Ardoin is being inducted into the Louisiana Hall of Fame for excellence in sports journalism.

[5] Bobby Ardoin, No Obstacle Was Too Difficult As Opelousas Grabs First-Ever Title, St. Landry Now Online Newspaper (Dec. 9, 2023), (last visited Apr 12, 2024).

[6] Eric Narcisse, Opelousas Coach Jimmy Zachery Wins Acadiana All-Metro Honor, (2023), (last visited Apr 23, 2024).

[7] Ardoin, supra note 5.

[8] Id.

[9] Drakkar Francois, Opelousas Tigers Crowned Champions, (2023), (last visited Apr 11, 2024).

[10] Id.

[11] KADN Staff, Opelousas High Forced by LHSAA to Forfeit State Football Title, KADN News 15 (2024), (last visited Apr 11, 2024).

[12] Zachery v. Louisiana High School Athletic Association and St. Landry Parish School Board, Petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Injunctive Relief, Docket Number C-2400686, 27th Judicial District Court, Parish of St. Landry, State of Louisiana, April 01, 2024, supra note 3. ¶ 16.

[13] Id. ¶ 17-18.

[14] Bobby Ardoin, Opelousas High Loses LHSAA Appeal, St. Landry Now Online Newspaper (Mar. 15, 2024), (last visited Apr 11, 2024).

[15] Scott Yoshonis, Opelousas High School Forced to Forfeit State Football Championship, (Feb. 28, 2024), (last visited Apr 17, 2024).

[16] Zachery v. Louisiana High School Athletic Association and St. Landry Parish School Board, Petition for Temporary Restraining Order and Injunctive Relief, Docket Number C-2400686, 27th Judicial District Court, Parish of St. Landry, State of Louisiana, April 01, 2024, supra note 3. ¶ 24.

[17] Id. ¶ 39.

[18] Bobby Ardoin, Arbitration Could Be Next For OHS, St. Landry Now Online Newspaper (Mar. 16, 2024), (last visited Apr 12, 2024).

[19] Paris Flannigan & Angie Simoneaux, Cecilia High Mentioned in Civil Lawsuit Involving OHS Head Coach Jimmy Zachery and LHSAA, KATC News (2024), (last visited Apr 11, 2024).

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