BRADENTON — For the first time this calendar year, Armwood’s football program has received a glimmer of good news from the Florida High School Athletic Association.
Offensive lineman Aaron Evans, a Seffner Christian transfer and University of Central Florida commitment, will be eligible to play this season.
The seven-member FHSAA Section 3 appeals committee on Friday approved Evans’ appeal of principal Michael Ippolito’s decision to rule him ineligible for the upcoming season following his move into a leased property with his disabled father.
“I’m relieved,” said Evans, who changed schools shortly after the 2011 football season. “Honestly it was in God’s hands for me. I wasn’t stressing out about it. I just prayed. I was like, ‘It’s yours. Which way it goes is okay with me.’ ”
Evans was the only one of four ineligible Hawks to exit victoriously from the third-story boardroom Friday in downtown Bradenton. The committee unanimously denied the appeals of Wharton transfer lineman Gabe Nold and rising juniors Craig Carrington and Greg Newton.
Carrington and Newton, who played for Armwood last season, were among five players found by the FHSAA to have used falsified information to enroll at the school, losing their 2012 eligibility. Armwood eventually was forced to forfeit its 2011 state title and fined $12,743.46.
Nold, an honors student whose parents are separated, moved to Armwood earlier this year to reside during the week with his dad, who has a small apartment nearby. Ippolito deemed some of the living-arrangement information given to him false, and ruled Nold ineligible.
Peter Hobson, a Tampa-based attorney representing all four families, said he’ll appeal the three denials at the FHSAA board of directors meeting Sept. 30. He hopes to use the Evans approval as a precedent.
In that case as well as the three others, Hobson argued, residence information provided to Armwood may have been inadequate or not updated at one point, but it wasn’t fraudulent. He also called the ineligibility rulings on Evans and Nold “premature.”
Complicating matters, Hobson added, is the fact the parents of all four players are divorced or separated, making for some “convoluted” living arrangements. Current FHSAA bylaws allow students to transfer if their families make a “full and complete” residence move.
“What we saw in there were inconsistent decisions,” Hobson said. “What this is really about, too, is high school sports and the governance of them in this state need to be at least re-examined in light of all the changes we’re seeing in these family units.”
The dad of Evans, the last of the four to appear before the committee, described being diagnosed with Guillain-Barre syndrome, a rare nerve disorder that left him hospitalized for months. For a time, he had to move into his ex-wife’s Valrico home and his kids ultimately had to withdraw from Seffner Christian, a private school.
When Jim Evans’ condition improved, he moved into his own place in Armwood’s district, and his children joined him to help care for him. Upon conducting his investigation, however, Ippolito said he had minimal proof of the living arrangement outside a lease agreement.
“But was anything false?” committee chairman Scott Langston -— a Lakeland attorney — asked Ippolito.
“I would say no,” the principal replied. “The lease agreement at this point, the best we can tell, is not false. But I’m having to make a decision in terms of eligibility based on things I’ve never thought of before, that leases could be false.”
Since then, the family has provided further documented proof. Based on that updated data, Ippolito told the committee he had changed his mind.
“I think what you witnessed in there was obvious — they finally got it,” Hobson said. “Just because you file information that either is inadequate or can’t be verified does not mean it’s been falsified. I applaud the chairman who picked up on that in the last hearing.”
Photo: Wharton transfer Gabe Nold's ineligibility was not overturned Friday.
Joey Knight can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org