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Sarasota Herald Tribune (Florida)
 

BRADENTON — Braden River High School was fined $5,000 and ordered to forfeit a yet-to be determined number of football games from the 2017 season after an investigation uncovered two student-athletes, both football players, received impermissible benefits, according to a report released by the Florida High School Athletic Association on Wednesday.

The decision comes two months after a three-page unsigned, undated letter on Braden River High School Pirate Football letterhead

and addressed to Frank Beasley, director of athletics for the FHSAA, detailed eight violations by the administration and coaching staff of Braden River High School for the 2017-18 season. The letter indicated that it was carbon copied to Michael Colby and Craig Damon of the FHSAA, Manatee County director of athletics Jason Montgomery, Sarasota County program specialist and director of athletics James Slaton and Venice High director of athletics Pete Dombroski.

Originally released on June 17, only recently did the letter officially reach the FHSAA offices in Gainesville. On Aug. 1, Damon requested Braden River director of athletics Matt Nesser respond to the allegations, which Nesser did during a visit to the FHSAA offices. Nesser provided additional information from Aug. 2 to 7.

While four of the allegations were determined to be unfounded and three were not under the FHSAA jurisdiction, it was determined that two student-athletes received impermissible benefits after living with families of current Braden River student-athletes.

Nesser said the families in the report have taken in students in the past, but "because they are athletes, they took it as impermissible benefits," he said.

Braden River was fined $2,500 for each infraction and forced to forfeit the football games in which each participated. The Pirates went 9-2 last season with both losses to Venice.

The names of the student-athletes were redacted from the report sent to the Herald-Tribune by the FHSAA. The report attached to the email sent by the Manatee County School Board listed the players names as Knowledge McDaniel and Deshaun Fenwick.

McDaniel, the student-athlete who participated in football last season, is ineligible for 365 days. Fenwick has since graduated and is an all-purpose back at the University of South Carolina.

The school is set to begin the appeal process for both beginning Thursday.

"My interpretation is these aren't impermissible benefits for athletic reasons. It's students in need and we're a family here," Nesser said.

"By the letter of the law, at first look you have a player that's staying with somebody that's in your booster club," Montgomery said. "That reeks of impermissible benefits. Then when you start going into the specifics of it, which will get played out in sectional appeals, this literally will be one of the best feel-good stories you ever have of a family stepping up to help a kid that needed help.

"This family has a history of doing this with kids that were non-athletes with kids that even attended other schools. They weren't aware, which is the failure of Braden River and on our end is they weren't aware of where their boundaries were, because they were affiliated with the athletic program. That's the direction we are going with our appeal. The most important thing we want is this kid should not be punished."

McDaniel, a 5-foot-11, 215-pound wide receiver, recently received an offer from Ohio State, according to his twitter feed, one of 21 college offers he has received, according to 24/7 sports.

"That's our most important goal in this appeal process is to get his eligibility back," Montgomery said of McDaniel.

Montgomery said the intent of FHSAA Policy 37.2 for impermissible benefits was not violated.

"The intent is to get people who play a sport or giving them housing to keep them from having to move to a different zone," he said. "This is totally not that. The kid is very good friends with the family's son who's a football player. They generally were trying to do the right thing and help them out and didn't realize this was going to put the school in a position.

"This kid has been at Braden River for four years. It's not like this kid was recruited in somehow that received impermissible benefits. There were red flags that got missed, but the intent of the rule was not to catch a kid like this from an eligibility standpoint. He's not in any way to be blamed for how this went down. That's our goal."

The case is similar with the student/athlete who graduated, according to Montgomery.

"There wasn't an intent to provide some kind of special benefits," he said. "Braden River has the support of the district. It could have been done different. It should have been done different."

Already on administrative probation for an earlier violation, Braden River High is on administrative probation for the 2018-19 and 2019-20 school years.

"It is the belief of the school and the district that what has happened is a case of two families helping students in need with no consideration of athletics and not in violation of the intent of the FHSAA policy in question. Based on that belief the school, with support of the district, will be appealing this ruling and are confident the decision will be overturned at sectional appeals once the full details emerge," stated a media release from the Manatee County School District.

The findings come less than three weeks after an investigation by Hudl, a national online database, determined the Braden River football coaching staff improperly accessed an account to view video footage of four Sarasota High football teams, as per a statement released by the Sarasota County School District.

Braden River accessed game and practice video footage from Venice, North Port, Sarasota and Booker High teams. Parties at Braden River were punished for their actions, but they were not divulged to the public, as per school policy.

"The only thing in that letter that had any validity to them that we were able to find was the Hudl accusations and what they are calling impermissible benefits," Montgomery said.

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