FHSAA Investigating Girls Basketball Champs

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Naples Daily News (Florida)


Fort Myers High School's bid for a third consecutive girls basketball state title may be facing its toughest obstacle - this one internal.

The Florida High School Athletic Association, with input from school officials, is investigating a complaint from the parents of one Green Wave player about potential recruiting violations by the program. Favoritism stemming from travel basketball affiliations also is alleged.

Dennis and Cynthia Townsend, the parents of senior center Alexsis Johnson, assert that freshmen Chaniya Clark and Samara Spencer live improperly in homes owned by the family of Fort Myers High assistant coach Jamie Outten, who helms the Florida Future travel program for which both play.

Clark, a 6-foot-4 center who has drawn notice as one of the top interior prospects in the nation for her grade level, is from Lakeland but attended Saint Michael Lutheran School in Fort Myers the past two years while living with Outten and his family in Fort Myers.

Clark's mother, Medericka Williams, told The News-Press that Jamie Outten and his wife, Nicole, have had legal custody of her daughter since 2015.

Spencer, from Miami, lives in a Fort Myers home previously owned by Jamie Outten, the Townsends said.

The property was sold in May to Donnovon Outten, a presumed relative, according to Lee County Property Appraiser records the Townsends sent to school and FHSAA officials.

Clark and Spencer were registered with the Lee County School District at the addresses owned by the Outten family, according to the Townsends, who said the freshmen and others affiliated with Florida Future receive favored treatment with the Green Wave.

"Every kid deserves a fair shot," Dennis Townsend told The News-Press. "I don't want anybody to take advantage of kids for their own benefit."

Presented in late November, shortly after the season began, with the Townsends' complaint - which also alleges slights dating back more than a year - Fort Myers High Principal David LaRosa turned the enrollment question over to the district and FHSAA.

"Every student that is in our school was put here by student assignment, (which) every parent has to provide legal, adequate documentation in order to get them in here - especially at this school," LaRosa said.

"I've turned this over to (the district and FHSAA) to investigate to make sure nothing has been done wrong. I put this out of my hands because I want the right decision made."

Transfers for athletic reasons have become rampant statewide as the FHSAA has been effectively forced by the state legislature to relax recruiting restrictions, which went into effect this school year.

But a distinction still exists between what school districts require for enrollment and what the FHSAA permits, said Craig Damon, the agency's associate executive director for eligibility and compliance.

"A parent can write a letter and say they want to give educational rights to someone and get it notarized and now that kid is able to attend that school," Damon said of a process that he said does not meet the FHSAA's standard for permissible guardianship transfers.

"School choice has changed. But as far as the standard for schools and employees, that has not changed. I think there's been a perception from the community and parents that my kid can go to whatever school they want to go to. That's why we emphasize going through the court system."

In the fall, Tampa Jefferson football coach Jeremy Earle was suspended for three games, and the school and coach were fined, for allowing a player to live with the coach over the summer.

The player lived with Earle from mid-May until the end of August and only played in the team's preseason game. But it was deemed an impermissible benefit by the FHSAA.

The outcome for the player, who was not named by the FHSAA, was not specified.

Damon, who is overseeing the Fort Myers case, said he received a file from Lee County schools late last month but needs additional information before moving forward.

The Lee County School District denied public records requests for all documents and emails on the case, citing student privacy laws.

For students being registered for the first time, the district's website specifies that "proof of custody is required if (a) child is not living with both natural parents."

For those registering a student while living with relatives or friends, the district requires a letter from those parties "listing your name and the names of your children, stating that you are residing at their address" and a copy of one item for proof of address.

Reached by phone, Clark's mother told The News-Press only that, "I've been here."

In a later message she wrote that the Outten family, including son Jalen Outten, a graduate student manager for the Auburn women's team, has treated Clark like family since first meeting her at a gym in Fort Myers when she was 9, around the same time Clark's family was enduring repeated tragedies.

Outten's family includes daughter Jarya, a freshman guard for Furman University and a former four-year starter for Fort Myers High, and daughter Janay, a freshman guard in the starting lineup for the Green Wave.

"Each time we visited Ft Myers (whether) it was for Basketball or not my daughter cried each time we left out of fear she would never see her New found (sic) family again," Williams wrote.

"In 2014 my daughter came to me asking if she did better in school and at home could we move to Fort Myers to be with her family the Outtens."

The Townsends' complaint includes other items dating back more than a year.

After tearing her ACL after her sophomore season - when she helped deliver Fort Myers its first state title with a dominant performance in the state title game - Johnson at times was slighted by Florida Future members during her junior season and criticized about the length of her rehabilitation, her parents said.

She missed all of her junior season after having surgery the preceding June.

The slights included not being announced pregame with the team at multiple games despite all other players on the roster being announced and being told she didn't deserve a state title ring, her parents said. She received a ring.

"If you're trying to teach your kid to be a team player, that's not being a team player," Cynthia Townsend said. "She was doing everything she was asked. It's not right."

Johnson, who transferred to Fort Myers from North Port during her sophomore season and also played for Florida Future, left that program last summer for a rival travel squad.

Then days before the start of this season, the Townsends said that Outten replaced Johnson with Clark practicing with the starting five while head coach Chad Terrell, also an assistant coach for the Fort Myers High football team, was absent assisting the football team's extended playoff run.

Terrell, Outten and Fort Myers High athletic director Cameron Yearsley declined to comment on any of the allegations.

"This is really about playing time," said LaRosa, who said he asked Terrell if there was any favoritism being shown because of travel affiliations and was told no.

"What goes on in AAU and all that stuff isn't any of my business. I don't talk to coaches about playing time. I'm not going to do it. I'm not at practice. How can I sit there and make a judgment on whether an athlete is being mistreated?"

Follow @NewsPressSeth on Twitter.

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January 9, 2018


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