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Palm Beach Post (Florida)

 

Pahokee waited eight years to claim its seventh state football championship.

On Thursday, the school was told it might have to give it back.

The Florida High School Athletic Association notified the school that it would have to vacate the Class 1A state title it won last month in Orlando because of an ineligible player, pending appeal.

That player was in his fifth year of play, which violates FHSAA rules that only allow for four years of eligibility.

Pahokee principal Michael Aronson said Thursday a data entry error resulted in the extra year of play for the athlete, who competed in 11 of 14 games this season, including the state title game. The Blue Devils defeated Baker 34-21 on Dec. 8 at Camping World Stadium in Orlando.

"We had no idea," Aronson said of the error. Aronson said the player was not flagged as ineligible 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."

Aronson said the school will appeal the ruling once it is made formal, which is expected to happen today.

If the appeal is denied, then the Class 1A state championship will stay vacant.

Aronson said Thursday he's not entirely sure how the ineligible player was brought to the FHSAA's attention.

FHSAA spokesman Kyle Niblett said an allegation was made against the school's football program, and the organization followed up.

Pahokee was informed of the investigation Jan. 5, and then conducted its own investigation, which turned up the data-entry error. The school reported its findings to the FHSAA.

Aronson said he's waiting to hear if the school would have to forfeit all 11 games in which the ineligible player competed, including the state title game.

First-year coach Orson Walkes and school administrators informed Blue Devils players Thursday afternoon of the FHSAA's decision, and they handled it as well as possible, Walkes said.

"For me, personally, I'm upset for my kids," he said. "It does affect me from a coach's standpoint, but that's not my focus. Of course, I'm disappointed. The kids are taking it -- I can't say well -- but they're high-character kids, and they're showing their class. We're going to move past this."

Aronson added: "This is a disappointing turn of events that will be felt throughout our entire community. This ruling should not detract from the accomplishments of our students on and off the field."

A storied program that has produced numerous college and NFL players, among them current Detroit Lions wide receiver Anquan Boldin, Pahokee finished 14-0 this season.

The Blue Devils beat Glades Central in the Muck Bowl Nov. 4, and then followed with three consecutive wins against ranked teams in the playoffs to earn a spot in the state title game.

Numerous Pahokee players were named to the Post's 2016 All-Area Team, and senior quarterback Tyrone Smith was named Small Schools Offensive Player of the Year after throwing for 2,598 yards and 26 touchdowns.

jwagner@pbpost.com

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