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Naples Daily News (Florida)
The Lehigh Senior High School football team will be without three of its players when it faces Fort Myers High School tonight due to six-week suspensions handed down by the Florida High School Athletic Association for their participation in a fight following a game in St. Petersburg last week.
In addition, Lehigh was fined $500 and placed on administrative probation for the rest of the school year because of the brawl which began during the postgame handshake after the undefeated Lightning scored 20 fourth-quarter points to beat St. Petersburg Lakewood 20-17 on Sept. 21, according to the FHSAA report obtained by The News-Press.
Five Lakewood players were handed six-game bans and another must serve a one-game suspension. The suspended players' names from each school were redacted in the report.
The players who were disciplined can return to play in the state playoffs. However, should either team not make the playoffs the suspensions can carry over to the next sport in which the players participate.
Lakewood was fined $1,300 and placed on administrative probation which ends after the current school year. Under FHSAA guidelines, harsher penalties are called for any further violations by either program while on probation.
Members of both teams are required to complete an approved FHSAA Sportsmanship Program.
"Coaches and administrators from Lehigh Senior High School took quick action to protect players and students at the end of last Friday's game," Lee County School District spokesman Rob Spicker said. "They met with the team and with parents first thing on Saturday morning to discuss what happened and worked with the FHSAA during its investigation.
"The school district will be adding postgame handshake etiquette to the Lee County Athletic Conference handbook."
Witness reports stated a few different altercations broke out during the postgame handshakes.
Lehigh principal Jackie Corey and athletic director Nick Dysert were on duty roaming the visitor sideline throughout the game, according to the FHSAA report.
Corey said in the report a scuffle erupted near the home side of the field prompting Lakewood players to run toward the incident. She said she saw a Lehigh player "being pounded numerous by (Lakewood) players" and another one of her students "whaling on the ground because he had been pepper sprayed" by police.
Another player, Corey said, fell to the ground complaining of severe pain and was transported to a local hospital in an ambulance.
Lakewood principal Erin Savage gave few specifics about the altercation in the report other than while coaches attempted to break up the fight on the Lakewood sideline another began at midfield.
A few Lakewood administrators reported an individual from Lehigh on the Lakewood sideline antagonizing Lakewood players during the game that got chippy at times, including an instance where the film shows a Lakewood player punch a Lehigh player following an interception.
Lakewood's film crew was the only one to record incidents that happened during the handshake line. Review of the film showed numerous Lakewood players refusing to shake hands before a Lakewood player stormed through the line and was removed by his coach.
Lehigh coach James Chaney said in the report one of his players was pushed by a Lakewood player. After the Lehigh player put his hands up to avoid conflict, Chaney added several Lakewood players started to punch his player.
There were two instances where Lakewood players tried to use their helmets as weapons, the report said after a review of the film. One Lakewood player threw his helmet at a Lehigh player and another attempted to swing his helmet at Lehigh coach Jelani Murray but was stopped by a Lakewood coach.
Following the incident, Savage said in the report she was met by obscene gestures from Lehigh players.
"As I and one of my assistant principals were walking up to the gym area to allow Lehigh players to retrieve their items, some of the players were giving us the middle finger through the bus windows," Savage said in the report. "And we could see some of them on the back of the bus emulating a fight."
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