Eight years ago, Liberty Christian Academy applied for membership in the Virginia High School League, the governing body for high school sports across the state.
That request was denied. Two years later, the school again requested to join and was rejected.
On Monday, LCA filed a federal lawsuit against the VHSL, demanding once more the right to compete.
The lawsuit, filed Monday in the U.S. District Court of Western Virginia, seeks to strike down what LCA’s lead counsel, New York-based Winston & Strawn, LLP, views as “a blatant violation of antitrust laws.”
While the VHSL sets the bar for public high school athletic programs across the state, it does not for private ones such as LCA, which competes in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association.
Only public high schools in Virginia with the expressed written authority of their respective school boards are eligible for membership in the VHSL, according to the organization’s 2013-2014 Handbook.
LCA filed suit “to force the Virginia High School League to end its illegal group boycott of non-public schools,” according to a news release issued Monday.
The release also states the school “is currently prohibited from competing in the VHSL playoff system and faces a rules scheme designed to prevent public schools from competing with private schools like LCA in athletic events, a scheme which violates antitrust laws.”
When reached by phone Monday afternoon, VHSL Information and Communications Specialist Mike McCall said he was not yet aware of the complaint.
“We’re a public school only association,” McCall added. “I don’t know much about the school, but I know they tried [to gain membership] in the past.”
Private schools, such as LCA and Virginia Episcopal, are allowed to play public schools during the regular season. That happened in 2013, when LCA’s baseball squad traveled to Amherst. But that sort of arrangement doesn’t happen often, since the both sides often are busy fulfilling schedule obligations and getting a look at the sort of competition they may see in their respective playoffs.
LCA has participated in the VISAA for years. In order to gain entry into that organization — which serves 103 private schools across the Commonwealth — schools must be accredited by an agency recognized by the Virginia Council for Private Education.
According to the suit, “LCA cannot regularly schedule the highest quality opponents, especially from local areas, to participate in football and basketball contests exhibited to the public due to exclusion from the VHSL” and must “resort to scheduling teams of lower quality, and often hundreds of miles away, including from out of state, to engage in high school football and basketball contests.”
It also claims the school has suffered economic injury from being excluded from the VHSL playoffs in football and basketball.
“This injury includes the fact that LCA and other non-public high schools have received, and will receive, less revenue for the exhibition of their high school football and basketball contests than they would receive in a competitive market,” the lawsuit claims.
LCA — founded in 1967 as Lynchburg Christian Academy —charges $6,690 per year to attend its high school, according to the school’s website. For students who are members of the affiliated Thomas Road Baptist Church, annual tuition dips to $5,686.50 per year.
Both of those numbers are less than half the average annual tuition to attend private schools across Virginia, according to PrivateSchoolReview.com.
LCA students, through the school’s agreement with Liberty University, also receive a 10 percent discount per year to attend the university after high school. For example, a student who attends grades 3-12 is awarded a 100 percent scholarship to LU.
Athletically, LCA has been most successful in football, having won seven state championships, including the last three at the Division I level. It has never won a boys or girls basketball state title, but grabbed its first baseball championship last month.
“They’re having trouble getting schools to play them [in football] in our association,” said VISAA Executive Director Dick Kemper, who spoke by phone Monday.
LCA athletic director Frank Rocco said all comments normally addressed to school officials should instead be directed to Jeffrey Kessler, an attorney with Winston & Strawn. LCA also is represented locally by Liberty Counsel.
Rocco said the issue is one that has dragged on for nearly a decade.
“We’ve been trying for seven years now in many different avenues,” he added, “to come to some kind of common ground.”
Lynchburg's Liberty Christian Academy filed a federal lawsuit against the Virginia High School League on Monday, citing that the league "end its illegal boycott of non-public schools."
LCA has attempted to gain membership into the VHSL, the governing body for high school sports across the Commonwealth, since 2006.
LCA currently participates in the Virginia Independent Schools Athletic Association, which includes 103 private schools in the state.
The school, founded in 1967 as Lynchburg Christian Academy, previously sought membership into the VHSL on two occassions. It first applied for membership in 2006, but that request was denied.
In 2008, LCA took its complaint to the VHSL's Executive Committee, which unanimously rejected the school's request.
"We are a public school only association," VHSL Information and Communications Specialist Mike McCall said when reached by phone Monday afternoon.
McCall said that, at the time, he hadn't received word of the lawsuit.
A press release was issued Monday by Winston & Strawn, a New York-based firm which is LCA's lead counsel. Liberty Council, which helped lead the school's 2006 charge, is acting as local counsel.
"Despite agreeing to abide by all VHSL rules and accept measures designed to ensure quality of competition, LCA has not even been given a vote on admission," the statement read.
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Contact Ben Cates at (434) 385-5527 or firstname.lastname@example.org.