Athletes' Parents Could Face Fines for FHSAA Violations
Fri. November 18, 2011 at 4:06 a.m. | By Solange Reyner
From left, Joe Stafford and his wife Rosalind Lee Brunson and Heather Clark parents of three George Jenkins High School students involved in a boundary move investigation speak at a news conference Tuesday at the offices of lawyer Robert Peddy in Lakeland. Brunson is the father of Chandler Brunson Clark is the mother of Jadrian Clark and the Staffords are the parents of Jacobe Stafford. (Photo by Michael Wilson | The Ledger)
By SOLANGE REYNER
LAKELAND | The Polk County School Board and the executive director of the Florida High School Athletic Association are making a push to hold parents more accountable when it comes to rule-breaking in high school sports.
The news comes on the heels of a major investigation in Polk County by the FHSAA in which five football players at Lakeland were ruled ineligible for their senior seasons after the FHSAA said they broke several bylaws so they could play at Lakeland.
The athletes weren't at fault, though, and the rules were blatantly broken by the parents, said Roger Dearing, the head of the FHSAA who has met with state legislators regarding legislation that would propose placing more weight on the parents' shoulders to do the right thing.
The FHSAA is the governing body for high school sports in the state of Florida and sets rules for its members in an attempt to "level the playing field," said Dearing.
The five athletes at Lakeland were ruled ineligible because the FHSAA said they falsified documents and failed to make a full-and-complete move into the new school zone before enrolling there. Three of those athletes were transfers who came in January from George Jenkins. The other two played in 2010 for the Dreadnaughts and were found to have been ineligible for that season. As a result, the school had to forfeit every game because of their participation, including vacating their district title.
"We have to get to a level of accountability, and in this case the parents have to be held responsible because they created a mess," Dearing said.
"These kids didn't falsify information. This was perpetrated by the adults in the situation. You have three or four parents who falsified information so their kids could play ball somewhere else, and that's a blatant violation of our rules."
Dearing would not specify whom he spoke with in the legislature, only to say that it was four state senators and six state representatives nearly three weeks ago. He also did not detail what the bill would entail except that it could include "fines and sanctions."
Locally, the Polk County School Board has mandated that the parents of any athlete moving into a new school sign an affidavit stating that they understand the full-and-complete move bylaw and that if they are found to have violated the rule then they could be responsible for the cost of the investigation and the fines imposed on the school.
The affidavit also says that the school can withhold the child's grades "until the monies are paid."
Polk County Athletic Director Don Bridges said instituting the rule has been a month in the making.
School Board members met about the transfer situation in early October, and Bridges said then that they were considering this as an option.
It was implemented Nov. 11.
"It's to safeguard our kids and our athletic programs," Bridges said. "If they are not signing it, then it's a pretty good sign that they didn't make a full and complete move. If they refuse to sign it, we have a right to not grant them eligibility."
Bridges said the form has been used three times in the past few weeks with students who transferred into Bartow, Winter Haven and Lake Gibson.
Robert Peddy, the lawyer representing one of the families whose son is ineligible this season, said that wording on the form is ambiguous and could have an opposite effect on what's intended.
"It's going to subject the Polk County School Board to litigation," said Peddy. "I think it also subjects the principal to liability, like the case with Lakeland where Tracy Collins approved the kids to play in the spring game because of what she had been told by the county."
[ Solange Reyner can be reached at 863-802-7526 or firstname.lastname@example.org. ]