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Cotey: Idle time helps shape IRC senior's perspective

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Tue. October 16, 2012 | John C. Cotey | Email

Cotey: Idle time helps shape IRC senior's perspective

Spencer Adkinson has seen suspensions come and go this football season.

Some were too hasty, like a six-game punishment on a cheap shot. Or too harsh, like six games for cursing. Or, in the case of a phantom punch, just plain wrong.

It all makes Adkinson wonder, again, if his suspension wasn’t too hasty, too harsh, too wrong.

And though he just finished serving it, and it’s behind him, it still gnaws at him.

All 363 days of it.

• • •

Let’s give the Florida High School Athletic Association some credit. It has looked at the recent run of player ejections in Tampa Bay, and while its guilty until proven innocent model still seems out of place, the organization has speedily corrected the errors.

Three high-profile players from Pinellas County had their suspensions overturned; two others from Hillsborough had their six-week suspensions reduced.

Even Adkinson, a senior at Indian Rocks Christian who returned to the football field two weeks ago, nudged a droplet of mercy out of Gainesville.

After three failed appeals, he was able to finally win one. Instead of his one-year suspension ending on the 365th day, a Sunday, the FHSAA agreed to let it end two days early so he could play against district rival Admiral Farragut on Oct. 5.

He joked that he warmed up harder than ever, and played the same way. He finished with 10 tackles and a sack, and caught two passes for 50 yards to lead his team to a big upset win.

“It hadn’t even hit me until the day of the game, I woke up that morning like, ‘I’m playing today.’ ”

• • •

Adkinson was handed a rare Level 3 suspension, which carries up to a one-year suspension and is reserved primarily for players who get physical with referees or spit on other players. Adkinson, the FHSAA said, got too physical with a referee Oct. 7, 2011.

With 13 seconds left in IRC’s biggest game of the year, the Golden Eagles needed a two-point conversion to force overtime against Admiral Farragut.

Adkinson, a tight end, ran a quick curl, and the pass came in low. He dropped to his butt in the end zone, low enough so he could fit his hands under the ball.

“I caught it,’’ he says.

He rolled to his feet, raised his arms to celebrate, then saw the referee crisscrossing her arms.

Incomplete.

Adkinson reacted poorly, he admits. He said he was just trying to get her attention, to tell her she had made the wrong call, and in the process ended the Golden Eagles’ season.

He bumped her. She stumbled a step, then threw a flag.

Adkinson knew right away he had made a mistake. He apologized and went home that night expecting to be suspended. He deserved it.

That Monday, he found out he’d be out an entire year.

• • •

The referee report said: “(Adkinson) shoved me with his elbow/arm continuing to yell that I had made a bad call.”

The FHSAA read it and suspended Adkinson 12 months, keeping with its hard-line stance against any contact with referees. Adkinson would have been better off punching another player.

“I was shocked,’’ said IRC athletic director Phil Farver, about both the severity and the haste with which the penalty was served.

If a player is going to be suspended for one year — one year — he felt the FHSAA owed him a phone call, maybe to request an explanation or offer one. Instead, a decision was made by people in Gainesville reading a single, 98-word explanation from an official.

“I was there. I thought this is probably going to be six weeks. But one year? Yeah, that was a little excessive,” Farver said.

Farver offered a defense, and included video. There were three appeals over the course of roughly two months.

“During the whole thing they kept saying it was an act of malicious intent,’’ Adkinson said. “It wasn’t. All I was trying to do was get her attention. I realize I went out of my boundaries.’’

Adkinson said he gave a speech to a group of students in chapel, about how bad decisions can affect your future.

He said the experience helped him grow up, and he expressed sincere remorse at every stop.

By the time of the final appeal, on Jan. 29 in Gainesville, Adkinson had been suspended for roughly 12 weeks and had missed four football games and 23 basketball games. It wasn’t enough.

Sixteen members of the FHSAA Board of Directors voted to approve the appeal 8-8.

They voted again, this time to deny the appeal, and it was 8-8.

Now, with a vote like that, you might think a roomful of experienced educators and athletic directors, unable to come to a consensus, might decide the punishment served was enough.

Might, considering they were not in complete agreement, show some mercy.

But the vote was the vote.

“They were more concerned about policy than people,’’ Farver said. “This from a group that exists for the benefit of student-athletes.”

• • •

Adkinson is back on the field and happy. His team is 2-0 since his return. They think the playoffs are in their future. And basketball is right around the corner.

Did he learn a lesson? Sure.

Did he learn any more of a lesson the past 10 months of his suspension? Not really.

“I missed a lot,” he said, including the first four games of his final football season.

He’s glad when he sees a player get the rest of his season back after it’s taken away.

He wishes he had been as lucky.

It all makes Adkinson wonder, again, if his suspension wasn’t too hasty, too harsh, too wrong.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com.

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