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WRESTLING-SPECIFIC MEDIA

"Down a large rabbit-hole" with RomaPics and the LHSAA
September 20th, 2021| Written by: Staff writer

 

 

If the LHSAA or RomaPics employed any wrestlers, or someone who remotely knows anything about wrestlers, this piece need not have been written.

Collusion.  It was a very popular word a few years ago.  In that situation the acts suggested by the word were illegal, but they were not proved to have occurred.  In the events described below, it very obviously occurred between the Louisiana High School Athletic Association (LHSAA) and RomaPics, the “official” photographers of LHSAA state championship events.  The acts for which it was used were also illegal.  It was not so heinous a crime to warrant anyone’s incarceration, even as nice as that sounds, but it did merit a guilty plea, if only to avoid a fine or just plain embarrassment for being caught.  They still got off relatively unscathed.  It cost them two whole press credentials.

Usually, though, the word connotes something nefarious.  Thirteen states colluded in 1861 to start the Civil War.  Leopold and Loeb colluded to kidnap and murder Bobby Franks in 1924.  Hitler colluded with Stalin to attack Poland in 1939.  Warren Beatty colluded with Columbia Pictures to film “Ishtar” in 1987.

Collusion is defined by the Oxford English Dictionary as a “​secret agreement especially in order to do something dishonest or to trick people.”  Legally, however, “collusion” is not a specific crime.  If fact, it originates from the Latin for “playing together.”  People may collude, or scheme, or plot to organize a surprise birthday party.  No harm no foul.

Nowadays collusion generally refers to price fixing, or other illegal practices designed for the purposes of financial gain.  That rather fits re this tale.

(I have only told this tale to my daughter Camille, my mother, my sister and an assortment of poor souls who made the mistake of asking me about it or happened to be around when I was bored.  I never thought to set it to words, though, until Camille told me her boyfriend, who knows only as much about wrestling as Camille has deigned to learn, minus what she cared to tell him, wanted to know about it.  Luckily for him, and any others who care to read further, lunch breaks, nap breaks or, really, any kind of breaks desired are available as desired…or needed.)

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On Friday, February 8th, 2019, the Louisiana Wrestling News (LWN) entered the CenturyLink Center in Bossier City, Louisiana, to photograph the 2019 Louisiana High Scholl Athletic Association (LHSAA) State Wrestling Championships.  They were armed with five loaded Canons and ready to shoot.  I returned to River Ridge two days later with well over 20,000 photographs to sort, choose, edit and name.  Due to the intuitive abilities of the four photographers I hired, the intense training to which I subjected them at Red Lobster the night before, and the cardinal rule of wrestling photography – “when in doubt, press the damn button” – I published over 7,600 of them on the state championships website I completed about three months later.

A year later, on February 14th, 2020, I walked into the CenturyLink Center as the only representative of the LWN.  I entered through the General Admissions gate after buying a ticket to the first day’s session.  It was the first time I had bought a ticket to the event since 2012.  I sat in the stands for about an hour.  Then I checked out of my hotel and drove back to River Ridge.  I watched the rest of the tournament on TrackWrestling.

Yet the trip still cost me about $6,000.  Two nights in a hotel, food and gasoline accounted for some.  But I felt obligated to pay the four photographers I had in 2019, something to reflect my gratitude as they had each rearranged their work schedules three weeks earlier to be available to photograph the event.  And yes, I pay them well.  I like to tell them that for the rest of their lives they may only be paid as little as their employers can get them to accept.  I like to pay them what their work is worth to me, and what I think it is worth to the wrestlers and their families.

On January 23rd, 2020, the media credentials application was still not available on the LHSAA website, so I emailed the list of people I wanted to receive them: Emily Hamman (this would be her fifth state tournament), Anna Tedesco (her third, Anthony Benedetto (his third), Jonathan Belaire (his second) and Camille Tyra (her first, but she had previously covered a Jazz Town Duals and Ken Cole Memorial for me – and, well, it was more “daddy-daughter” time for me). 

On February 4th, 2020, Kate Adams, the LHSAA director of Communications and Media Relations, told me over the phone that I would get three press passes, and not six.  It was disappointing, but it did allow for one camera on each of the three finals mats.  Earlier in 2020, Kelly Wells, the Executive Director of the Shreveport-Bossier Sports Commission, told me the LHSAA was taking firmer control over what transpired at the 2020 state championships.  He said even Jim Ravannack, the man who basically ran every state tournament for the last 25 or more years, would not be afforded the clout he had wielded so well in the past. 

Three days later, on February 7th, after applying for press passes on January 23rd and arranging my photography crew, I received the below email from Ms. Adams:

Graphical user interface, text, application, email

Kate Adams' "Denied Email"

The email was cc’d to Ryan Romaguerra, the owner of RomaPics, the “official” photographer of LHSAA state championship events.  Oddly, I thought, it was also cc’d to Mark Boyer, an attorney used by the LHSAA.

I did not ask if my photographers were able to reschedule their work obligations or not.  They are young adults and as such had probably already spent most of the money they expected from the job.  I made sure they got at least half of what I would normally would have paid them.

“Let the LWN Photograph the State Championships”

Anyone who knows me attentively is cognizant that modesty is not a virtue of which I am deficient.  I believed some people waited for my photographs to be published before determining if they wanted to buy any from RomaPics.  And I do think my photos were better.  However, I had no idea how many others felt the same way.

Shortly after receiving what I call Ms. Adams’ “Denied Email” I created a Facebook page entitled “Let the LWN Photograph the State Championships.”  I wanted to see if others felt as maligned as I did. 

I viewed the page as my bringing a blackboard to a classroom.  It was the parents who brought the chalk.

I was stunned by the response.  Within a week I had more “Likes” than RomaPics had on their Facebook page, which was created several years before.  After two weeks I had enough comments to allow me to create a t-shirt.  I deleted almost all of my replies, and still had enough for three columns of comments on the front and back sides.  I was dumbfounded.  I was surprised, appreciative and came as close as I ever have to deeming myself “not worthy.”  Honestly, I admit I felt proud.

I do not know what made me prouder: the appreciation expressed by the parents, their obvious disappointment re my not being allowed to photograph the 2020 state tournament, or the wholly vitriolic nature of their statements about RomaPics and/or the LHSAA.  I must admit I really enjoyed those.

I did not know until a year later that on February 7th, 2020, another wrestling parent made his thoughts known to Eddie Bonine in an email.  Bonine forwarded a copy to Adam MacDowell, Kate Adams, Kelly Wells (it was a Bossier City father who wrote the email) and, naturally, Ryan Romaguerra.

Mike Miller, the father of Parkway wrestler Peyton Miller, took both RomaPics and the LHSAA “to task.”  I asked him for, and he granted me, permission to publish his email.  It is well worth reading.

Mike Miller email

Mr. Miller received a response on the same day.  This is a copy of the only response he received:

Graphical user interface, text, application, email

Description automatically generated

“All the best” my eye, Kate Adams.

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Looking back at 2019 I probably should have expected something like the events of 2020 would happen.   The LWN was granted five press credentials that year.  Saturday morning, while I was setting things up at the press table, I received a call from Emily, the photographer I hired in 2016.  She said the LHSAA personnel at the front entrance to the arena floor would not allow the other LWN photographers onto the floor.  At that time Tiara Gibson was the LHSAA Director of Communications, and she and Kate Adams, perhaps in training, were at the table.  Tiara told me we could only have two photographers on the floor on Saturday.  I surmised, incorrectly I would later learn, she simply forgot to tell me that.  I am fine spending money on wrestling, but losing money on it is altogether different.  Did Ms. Gibson expect me to pay my photographers (albeit I would have) to not take photographs?  Granted, I do not expect that was a concern of hers. 

Jim Ravannack was naturally my first choice to address the matter, as he has always been very supportive of the LWN, and I have no doubt he would have remedied the problem.  Yet Kelly Wells stepped-in first and Ms. Gibson was instructed to let the photographers onto the floor.

I learned later that RomaPics threw a bit of a hissy fit about it.

Kelly Wells proved to be correct about his warning re what the LHSAA would allow at the 2020 state championships.  The 2019 Saturday morning fiasco should have been my first clue that something was “rotten in the state of Denmark.”

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Lost revenue was the problem.  Apparently after the 2018 state championships, of which I published over 7,800 photographs, RomaPics did not see the revenue stream they expected from the event.  My article was published about three-and-a-half months after the tournament, after RomaPics took down their 2018 wrestling photo gallery.  Something was just not working out for the LHSAA’s “official” photographer.

That explains the odd phone call I received in early 2019 from Ryan Romaguerra, the owner of RomaPics.

He asked me if there was a way we could “work together.”  I did not know what he meant by that, and he did not offer any ideas of how we could do that.  I did not think I was working against RomaPics.  Mr. Romaguerra could not seem to process why I did not charge a fee to download my photographs.  It is as if his brain saw “2 + quantum physics = coelacanth.”  He could not understand that I was a wrestler.  He most probably did not know that a large percentage of wrestling coaches spend far more of their own money during the season than they are paid, if they are paid, by the schools at which they coach.  It is what we do, and it is hard to explain that to non-wrestlers.  For them, it remains how Winston Churchill described the Soviet Union in 1939: “a riddle, wrapped in a mystery in an enigma.”

Approximately a year later, on February 3rd, 2020, Mr. Romaguerra called me again, on the same day that Ms. Adams sent him an email with my contact information.  Unlike in 2019, this time he had some options of how the LWN and RomaPics could “work together.”  In a nutshell each one included my giving RomaPics the photos I took so they could sell them to fans.  He would make sure the LWN was credited for taking the photographs.  I did not comprehend how that benefitted me at all.  He also proposed I help pay the fee RomaPics paid the LHSAA to be the “official” photographer at the event, and then give him my photographs for them to sell while giving the LWN credit for taking them.  I really failed to understand how that would benefit me.  He then suggested I give him the photos from all of the previous state tournaments, to hold in some archive, in the event someone wanted to purchase any from RomaPics, with the LWN receiving credit, of course.  Now I was wondering what people in Metairie might be smoking and where I might get some!  Past state tournaments are already archived on the LWN website.  All of the photos I have ever published are still available.

Mr. Romaguerra’s best offer, however, was that if I “worked with” RomaPics in any of his scenarios, the LWN website, via a logo, would be linked on the LHSAA’s website’s “Corporate Partners” page.  That, said Mr. Romaguerra, would significantly increase the traffic on my website.  I think the coelacanths might have shown up again.  How would a website that is not designed to turn a profit, and which is already “powerful” enough to adversely affect RomaPics’ revenues, need any more traffic than it already has?  His “offers” might have been considered evidence that he had gone, as Lewis Carroll might have put it, “down a large rabbit-hole.”  How many people, if they happen to want to know something about Louisiana high school wrestling, rather than use Google, go to the LHSAA website’s “Corporate Partners” page to try to find out about it?  And do they go there before or after searching on Alta Vista?

February 3rd, 2020, was a Monday.  I told Mr. Romaguerra I would ponder his suggestions and call him later in the week.  Instead, though, I emailed him on February 4th, as my mind was made up and it was too late in the evening to call.  Seeing no benefits for the LWN or Louisiana wrestling fans in his proposals, I politely turned them down.  I cc’d the email to Ms. Adams and spoke to her on the phone on Wednesday, February 5th, asking how many media credentials I would receive.  She said she would call me back later in the day.  She did not.  It then was abundantly clear that I would not receive media credentials.  It was also clear that it was due to the woes of RomaPics because people simply liked my photographs better than theirs.

Two days later Ms. Adams sent the “Denied Email.”

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Unbeknownst to me until a day or two after January 10th, 2021, I did not know that the LHSAA kept a dossier on the LWN.  At that time, it was 52 pages long.  They had done so since at least June 27th, 2018, which is the date I mailed a letter to LHSAA Executive Director Eddie Bonine asking if, at the 2019 state championships, the LWN photographers could venture inside the barricades protecting the mat areas.  I did not ask that we be allowed on the mats, but just on the edges on either side of the scorers’ tables, so long as we did not get in their way. 

While I did not know such a dossier existed, RomaPics must have.  On July 11th, 2018, one of their photographers learned about my letter from Tiara Gibson, and he emailed that information to Ryan Romaguerra, who then forwarded it to Adam MacDowell. 

In the letter of June 27th to Bonine I included photographs of a 2018 finals match taken by my photographers and by RomaPics.  In the same July 11th email the RomaPics photographer complained that I did not use any of his “better” photographs of the match.  He felt his photos told a fine “story” of the match.  (I have serious doubts he would know what a wrestling “story” is.)  He was correct about two things.  He did take some fine photographs, but I chose the crappiest photos I could find.  I did so to emphasize that people who might otherwise choose to buy photographs from RomaPics first have to look through the thousands of unedited and only mildly sorted photographs RomaPics offers to sell.  Yes, I published over 7,800 photographs in 2018 and over 7,600 in 2019.  I picked and worked on every one of those photos.  However, I threw out over 12,000 photographs with which I came home in each of those years.  I doubt if RomaPics throws out any.

The photographer also complained of having only two photographers for the match indicated, whereas the LWN had five.  It was a Division III finals match.  Is he suggesting that RomaPics only had two photographers at the event and that they only took photos of Division III finals matches, when the Division I and Division II finals matches were being contested at the same time?  Did he also think that the five LWN photographers were also only concentrating on the Division III finals match?  Did he think at all prior to writing the email?

July 11th, 2018, RomaPics interoffice email

The photos I publish are sorted by division, weight class, tournament rounds.  They also include the name of the winner and the loser of each match, and are numbered by how many of them I publish of a specific match.  RomaPics does not appear to discard any of the photographs they take at the state championships.  Yet they cry when fans choose a much simpler, and, mathematically, infinitely less expensive, alternative re obtaining photographs of their children on the mats.  As soon as my article is published fans will know if I have pictures of a particular match.  If I do not, well, RomaPics is the only other option they have, and they can certainly search through the dregs to find decent ones. 

In that now even more damning email, the photographer mention he knew of a “media meeting” the LHSAA was holding on July 26th to “deal with some media issues of access and what not.”  He suggested he and Ryan Romaguerra meet with the LHSAA on July 25th.  He wrote that Adam MacDowell would check to see if Eddie Bonine would be available for the meeting.  I rarely get a response to my emails to the LHSAA, and I was not invited to either of those meetings.  Go figure.

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Sternberg, Naccari and White is a New Orleans law firm at which a St. Martin’s class of 1981 classmate of mine practices law.  I contacted her about another issue, and then asked her if she thought the LHSAA could do what they did to the LWN re the 2020 state championships. 

I asked her because of an utterly ridiculous exhibit of nonsense, which would make Lewis Carroll “mimsy in the borogoves” proud, called the “LHSAA 2020-21 Media Policies and Procedures.”  In the “Photography” section of it, on page three, was written (and apparently was approved by someone) the following:

“The LHSAA prohibits the sale of photographs from LHSAA state tournament events, and will not credential any photographers whose photos will be used for any purpose other than legitimate media coverage.  Photography is only to be used by legitimate news gathering agencies.  RomaPics is responsible for distributing and selling photos at LHSAA state tournament events.”

LHSAA Media Policies and Procedures: 2020-21

The flawed logic of this section might suggest nonsensical genius, or at least Swift-like satire, until the source of it (someone at the LHSAA is a likely candidate) is remembered. 

Let us examine the section sentence by sentence, shall we?

1)      “The LHSAA prohibits the sale of photographs from LHSAA state tournament events, and will not credential any photographers whose photos will be used for any purpose other than legitimate media coverage.”

This sentence poses two problems:

A)    The sale of the photographs from the event is allowed.  RomaPics gets to sell them,

 

B)    RomaPics does not use their photos for “legitimate media coverage.”  They take photographs to make money.  Yet the first sentence says they cannot do that.  Hence, the second sentence says they should not even be credentialed.

 

2)    “Photography is only to be used by legitimate news gathering agencies.”

 

OK, I am still baffled about what a “news gathering agency” might be.  In another section of the document, they use terms like “bona fide media, “reputable new organizations” and “legitimate media outlet.”  They even have a criteria test to determine what does not constitute whatever term they choose to use for something like the LWN.  According to Dr. Michael Giusti, the chair of Loyola University’s Department of Journalism, the LWN passes that test easily.  RomaPics does not meet even one of the five criteria cited.

 

Dr. Michael Giusti letter

 

3)    “RomaPics is responsible for distributing and selling photos at LHSAA state tournament events.”

Does not that sentence totally refute the first sentence?  I bet Mr. Spock would say as much.

Logical thinking has been credited to Aristotle, Euclid, Descartes, Vulcans and numerous others whom, logic dictates, I do not know.  Simply stated, it is not something to be dallied with by the addle-minded.

 

My friend brought the issue to one of her firm’s partners, Mr. Scott Sternberg, as he is an expert on First Amendment rights.  Working pro bono, Mr. Sternberg sent a letter to Eddie Bonine of November 10th, 2020, stating, among other things, the LHSAA “are discriminating against my client [the LWN] because his photographs would affect one of [their] vendors.”  The letter went on to say, “On behalf of our client, we would like assurances from you that you will provide press credentials to Louisiana Wrestling News regardless of your financial arrangement with RomaPics,” followed by, “If you do not provide this assurance, we will be forced to initiate legal action.”

Three days later, on November 13th, 2020, Mr. Sternberg received a letter from Mr. Mark Boyer, of Boyer, Hebert, Caruso & Angelle, a law firm retained by the LHSAA.  The letter stated that I “will be provided with media credentials in the same form and fashion as other members of the media who will be in attendance” at the state championships.  It took three days for the LHSAA to capitulate.  France put up a better fight against Germany in 1940.  They had an army, though.  The LHSAA did not even have an argument.

Sternberg letter        Boyer letter

Based on that decisive victory I decided I should “push the envelope” find out how many media credentials the LWN would receive before I made plans to hire photographers.  On January 11th, 2021, I emailed Mr. Vince Cacioppo, the new LHSAA Director of Communications, asking, although it was earlier than such information was usually released, how many I could expect.  I explained that my Shreveport photographers had expressed an interest in photographing the event in Baton Rouge, but that I did not want them to make any arrangements until I knew if they would be allowed to do so.  Mr. Cacioppo replied on the following day the I would receive two press credentials.  It made little sense for just one person to travel from Shreveport to Baton Rouge for the event, so the second one went to my daughter.  She happened to be in town from Atlanta, and her birthday was on the horizon.  Plus, as my only child, she has a monopoly on Muller nepotism.

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Incredibly, attached to that email was the 52-page PDF dossier mentioned earlier.  I did not ask for a copy of it.  How could I?  I did not know it existed.  It was a “goldmine” of information, though, with interoffice LHSAA and RomaPics emails, as well as emails from one to the other.  And it provided clear evidence of scheming, plotting and conniving for financial gain – dare I say “collusion?” - between the LHSAA and RomaPics.  It gave me the reasons needed to contact a lawyer to determine if my rights were violated in 2020.

On a personal note, the dossier solved a nagging problem for me.  For eight years I struggled to define how best to describe the Louisiana Wrestling News.  Dr. Giusti referred to it as “a bona fide news outlet covering a niche community of student athletes…”  That is a very appropriate definition, but it was too long to use on a t-shirt.

Here I must thank Kate Adams’ lack of understanding of what the LWN is.  I have always felt that the name is self-explanatory, and that I was not at my creative best when choosing the domain name “lawrestlingnews.com.”  Two years earlier when I asked about media credentials, Tiara Gibson emailed me the following: “Please educate me about Louisiana Wrestling News as a publication.”  Why did not either of them look at the website?  There is an “About the LWN” link on the front page.  And why did not a communications director italicize Louisiana Wrestling News?

Ms. Adams asked the question on January 24th, 2020, and Adam MacDowell replied:

Text, letter

January 24th, 2020 LHSAA interoffice email

“These people are wrestling specific media….”  Adam MacDowell had solved the problem of how I should really describe what I do.  Sure, he did not use the hyphen the phrase requires, but I can add hyphens with the best of them.  When I first read it, I felt rather “dirty.”  It was written as if the LWN were Al-Qaeda, or KGB… or Georgia’s Marjorie Taylor Greene. 

The quote also gave me the idea for the 2021 state championships LWN t-shirts.  Unfortunately, to my knowledge, only Camille knew of the sarcasm it displayed.  Well, come to think of it, one more person might have, but I doubt he paid the shirts much heed.

If only “Wrestling-specific Media” would fit on an automobile license plate.  Maybe on an AMC Pacer.

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Nothing I do will cause the LHSAA to change their mind.  I want six cameras to get more match photographs and to have cameras on each side of the finals’ mats.  I do not think the LHSAA will grant me more than the two they gave me last year.  They do not care that a lot of wrestling families cannot afford to buy photographs from RomaPics (who, according to the LHSAA, are not allowed to sell photographs, twice, until they are).

As I mentioned previously, I do not have a problem with RomaPics being the “Official” photographers of LHSAA state championship events.  (I am not happy with how my daughter said she was treated, but I can keep that “on hold” until something similar happens.)  I also am not the reason why RomaPics lost expected revenue from the 2018 and 2019 state tournaments. 

RomaPics loses money on the state wrestling championships for several reasons:

1)     Their prices are too high,

2)      They do not organize their photos in a manner that makes it easy for potential customers to find the photos they want,

3)      Their photos are obscured by an obnoxious photo-protection watermark,

4)      They do not edit their photos prior to putting them on their website – some of them are horrible,

5)      They do not know how to photograph wrestling.

I do not have to prove any of those reasons.  RomaPics proves it just fine.   A significant portion of their “customer base” (I use quotes because that is a group of fantasy people, like benevolent dictators, Russian amateur athletes or Underpants Gnomes), enough to merit their complaining to the LHSAA, opts to wait three months or more to get photographs from a bunch of amateur photographers, of which only one has wrestling experience.

The reasons listed above, mind you, do not attempt to cover the additional costs RomaPics incurs to feed and house their personnel.  I have done the math and believe the nature of the state wrestling tournament does not allow a profit to be made by selling photographs.  Heck, I probably paid more than they did when I had four photographers, and you do not hear me bitching about it.  (I mean re the costs, of course.)

A picture containing clipart

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Why should I even consider an opportunity to “work with them?”  I will offer the following suggestions in case they forgot what was outlined four sentences ago:

1)      Lower the prices for general photos or customer requested individual match photos,

2)     Make the photos easier for people to find,

3)     Use a less obnoxious watermark,

4)     Edit out the bad photos.  Everybody takes them at one time or another,

5)     Learn something about the sport of wrestling or hire someone who does to train your photographers.

Hell, it’s free, so I will offer another option:

6)      PUNT.  Let someone else have the LHSAA wrestling concession if it does not generate enough money.

RomaPics is the source of the problem.  The LHSAA, however, is the force that stands behind the source.  As for the LWN, it is the loess stepped on by the force due to the source.  (“Loess” rhymes with “source” and “force.”) 

I have run out of ideas of how to convince the LHSAA that perhaps a non-profit oriented public service is not such a bad thing.  Letters to the LHSAA, letters to every state representative and state senators and letters to the press have all failed.  I had little other choice but to threaten a lawsuit, and that still only merited two media credentials in 2021.

Only wrestlers understand wrestlers.  That includes family members and friends of wrestlers who see what wrestlers submit themselves to every day at practices and at matches.  If the reader is among that group, I need not elucidate further.  If not, further elucidation is futile.

I fear something wondrous and unexpected is needed to allow the number of credentials I would like at the 2022 state championships.  Something like USA 4-USSR 3 in the 1980 Winter Olympics, the Titanic sinking the iceberg or:

 

Every Who down in Whoville,

the tall and the small,

Was singing! Without any presents at all!

Engineering drawing

What will it take to make the LHSAA’s heart grow three sizes, and then have them cut the roast beef?

If they were wrestlers…

"Courage"

   
     
   

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