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Palm Beach Post (Florida)
Pahokee has appealed the Florida High School Athletic Association's ruling to strip the school of its Class 1A state football championship and all 14 wins from last season, spokesman Kyle Niblett confirmed Thursday night.
The school was penalized Jan. 16 for its use of an ineligible player during the 2016 season.
The player was in his fifth year, which is a violation of an FHSAA bylaw that states that a high school student has four consecutive years of eligibility beginning with the school year he or she begins ninth grade for the first time.
According to the FHSAA, the player entered ninth grade in August 2012, making the 2016-17 school year his fifth year. The player is a student at Everglades Preparatory Academy, which is a charter school in Pahokee.
He was participating for the Pahokee football team as a non-traditional student.
Principal Michael Aronson said that a data-entry error resulted in an extra year of play for the athlete.
"We had no idea," Aronson told the Post when news of the infraction was revealed Jan. 12. 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."
The appeal will be heard by the FHSAA's infractions committee, which reviews major violations.
If it is rejected, the school has 10 days to inform the FHSAA whether it plans to appeal to the Board of Directors, Niblett said.
In addition to the state championship and win forfeiture, the school also must pay a $1,400 fine, which is $100 per contest.
The school also was reprimanded, and will receive an official letter of censure regarding the violations.
The Blue Devils defeated Baker 34-21 to win the Class 1A state championship Dec. 8 to cap a perfect season. It was the seventh state title for the storied program and first since 2008. The Blue Devils also beat Glades Central in the Muck Bowl for the first time since 2008.
The FHSAA received a tip that the Blue Devils had used an ineligible player and informed Pahokee officials in early January of the allegation. Pahokee self-investigated the matter and discovered that the player was a fifth-year student and reported its findings .
Two other schools have been forced by the FHSAA to vacate state football championships -- Seffner-Armwood in 2011 and Hastings in 1971 -- both for using ineligible players. Armwood was actually stripped of wins for two seasons and fined for using ineligible players in 2010 and 2011. The 2010 team beat Dwyer 22-0 in the Class 4A state semifinals. Five Armwood players were found to have falsified residency claims. Some of the players used fake electric bills as proof of residency.
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