SOUTHWEST MIAMI-DADE, FLA. (WSVN) - A football and lacrosse player at Christopher Columbus High School stepped on the field at Tropical Park to play for the first time in months after a Miami-Dade judge ruled against a controversial suspension and allowed him to get back in the game, but the athletic association that upheld his ban wasted no time in filing an appeal.
7News cameras captured Luther Johnson V playing with his football teammates at the season opener against Belen Jesuit, considered one of Columbus’ most formidable rivals, Wednesday night.
It’s a victory lap for the teen, who celebrated the legal victory with his family following six months off the field and weeks of appeals.
Earlier on Wednesday, Johnson and his mother joined his attorneys and Christopher Columbus High administrators to discuss the ruling.
“I was left with no words because I was speechless,” said Johnson.
“I was able to breathe, finally knowing that someone somewhere heard us,” said his mother, Antoinette Lodge-Johnson.
“He’s got a perfect academic record. He’s never been disciplined in the sport,” said David Heffernan, one of his attorneys. “If he was not allowed to play this year, then justice just wasn’t being served.”
Johnson is in the middle of a legal fight after he was accused of two hard hits during two lacrosse games last season. Referees said his actions on the field were unsportsmanlike.
Video shows Johnson, seen wearing the 33 jersey, making a play that caused his opponent to fall.
The Florida High School Athletic Association suspended Johnson for the majority of his senior year for those hits.
But Johnson and his coaches said the move captured on video is typical in high school and college lacrosse.
“I think, in my opinion, it’s easy to second-guess officials, but they make what they consider to be the correct calls, and I think the ball just snowballed downhill,” said Chris McKeon, dean of students and athletic director at Christopher Columbus High.
Johnson appealed his suspension to the Florida High School Athletic Association. Its board ultimately blocked him from all fields during his senior year.
Rawsi Williams, one of his attorneys, claimed Johnson was the victim and the target of bullies shouting racial slurs at him during one of the lacrosse games in question.
The teen’s attorneys filed a motion earlier this year hoping to get him reinstated before his senior seasons for both football and lacrosse.
“The sport that he played last year and received the penalties in is not the sport that he’s playing tonight,” said Christopher Columbus High School Principal David Pugh. “That should have never been in jeopardy.”
Since the case first landed in court, Johnson’s attorneys have said sidelining their client would hurt his chances for scholarships in his final year of high school play.
“That’s my future,” said Johnson. “My college future for playing sports – if I want to play sports. I don’t have to play sports, but that’s something that I love to do.”
On Tuesday, several weeks after the motion was filed, a judge agreed with Johnson’s defenders and granted a temporary injunction, which cleared the way for him to play football.
“It’s just so much excitement running through my body just to have that one more time to step on the field because you never know when it can be your last time,” Johnson said.
“You gave Luther faith that justice and society believe in him. The battle isn’t over, but this is a great victory,” said Williams.
With the temporary injunction in place, Johnson was to suit up for the game against Belen Jesuit at Tropical Park.
But the legal fight is not over yet. Late Wednesday afternoon, FHSAA filed an appeal to the Third District Court of Appeals to throw out the emergency injunction.
“We’re celebrating today, but the same amount of effort that everyone exerted initially is what we will need to continue this fight,” said Williams.
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