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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
The Florida High School Athletic Association's decision on Monday to strip Pahokee of its 14 wins and state football championship came down to the eligibility of a Blue Devils player.
Specifically, the lack of it.
Pahokee, which defeated Baker 34-21 Dec. 8 to win the Class 1A state title, was found to be in violation of FHSAA Bylaw 9.5.1, which states that a high school student has four consecutive years of eligibility beginning with the school year in which he/she begins ninth grade for the first time.
The student, who was not named by the FHSAA in its formal ruling Monday, entered ninth grade in August 2012, thus making the 2016-17 school year his fifth year.
The student attends Everglades Preparatory Academy in Pahokee and participated on the Blue Devils' football team as a non-traditional student.
Everglades Preparatory Academy is a charter school that does not field a football team. A charter-school student is eligible to participate in an interscholastic activity -- like football -- at the public school that student would otherwise have been assigned to.
Pahokee Principal Michael Aronson said Thursday that a data-entry error resulted in an extra year of play for the athlete.
"We had no idea," Aronson said. Aronson said the player was not flagged as ineligible by the state's computer system when his information was entered into a database prior to the season. "We thought we had dotted every I and crossed every T, because we knew going into the season that we had a team that could win a state title.
"We were very careful with what we did."
That the student slipped through the cracks -- plenty of questions remain about how that occurred, and who made the initial allegations to the FHSAA -- has raised concerns among area coaches.
Seminole Ridge football coach and assistant athletic director James Parson said he and school administrators are diligent about checking student-athletes' paperwork.
"Being my first year, I'm a little paranoid about everything," he said.
Most coaches are well aware that a student's eligibility clock starts running in ninth grade, Parson said, but things become tricky when students come from out-of-county or out-of-state schools. Extra steps are required to ensure eligibility.
"Before I even allow him to practice, I have to wait on his transfer papers from another school," Parson said. "He might have been ineligible there, or he might have started the sport. Once we get that paperwork into our data processor, then she lets the athletic director know -- yea or nay -- if they can practice with the team."
Parson referenced a player who competed for the Hawks this season after transferring from a school in Montana. The student arrived at Seminole Ridge two weeks into the school year, but was not cleared to practice for another three weeks.
Parson said coaches rely heavily on athletic directors, data processors and state administrators to ensure the eligibility of student-athletes.
"You have to make sure that the state and the ADs do their due diligence," he said.
Neither Pahokee nor the school district were available for comment Tuesday. Aronson said last week that the school would appeal the FHSAA's decision once it was made formal.
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