TAMPA — An investigation by Florida’s high school sports governing body has found that five members of Armwood High’s 2011 state championship football team falsified residence information to gain athletic eligibility.
The Florida High School Athletic Association’s 44-page preliminary report was released Monday afternoon. Armwood has 10 business days to respond. If the school can’t mount a solid defense, the Hawks likely will have to forfeit all 15 wins and the Class 6A state title they won in December.
“This is a serious matter which has revealed some very specific procedural areas that we agree we need to closely review,” Hillsborough County school superintendent MaryEllen Elia said at a hastily-called news conference Monday afternoon at the district’s downtown Tampa headquarters.
“We will look at Armwood High School and high schools district wide.”
Elia, joined at the news conference by Armwood coach Sean Callahan and principal Mike Ippolito, strongly suggested that both men’s jobs are safe.
“We’re going to investigate everything but I will tell you right now, do you think I would have two people that I’m going to fire standing next to me?” Elia said. “Let’s be honest here, I have parents who, across this district, aren’t telling the truth. And it’s important to get the message out.”
The findings on Armwood come more than seven months after the FHSAA forced Lakeland High to forfeit its entire 2010 season and pay nearly $5,100 in investigative costs for using two ineligible players. That investigation found three students who transferred from nearby George Jenkins High falsified addresses, received free rent and failed to make a full and complete move into Lakeland’s district.
“Obviously we have a great team; they did very, very well this year,” Elia said. “So we now have a report telling us there are problems. We’ve got to figure this out.”
The players named in the report are senior linebacker Keionne Baines, senior offensive guard Jack Lightsey, senior receiver Javonte Sneed, sophomore running back Greg Newton and sophomore linebacker Craig Carrington. All three seniors were starters in 2011.
In the report, all are accused of violating FHSAA bylaw 126.96.36.199, which prohibits falsifying information to gain athletic eligibility. It also charges that two representatives of Armwood’s “athletic interests” participated in falsifying information to assist a student in attending Armwood.
The students were determined to have not made a “full and complete move” with their families into Armwood’s district — as FHSAA policies require — before suiting up for the Hawks. Additionally, the report mentions an August 2010 letter from Ippolito to the FHSAA indicating Sneed was practicing with Armwood while still enrolled at Durant, and that Callahan was aware the player wasn’t residing in Armwood’s geographic school zone.
Callahan declined to discuss specifics of the report.
The investigation was spawned last fall by an ABC Action News investigative report questioning whether the family of Lightsey, who played as a junior at Orlando’s Dr. Phillips High, made a full and complete move into Armwood’s geographic zone.
According to the report, compiled by FHSAA investigator and Hillsborough High employee Troy Pumphrey, Lightsey enrolled at Armwood in March 2011 using the address of a Tampa apartment that had been leased. (Pumphrey, whom FHSAA commissioner Roger Dearing calls “the best investigator we’ve got,” also investigated Lakeland.)
In a subsequent interview with Pumphrey, Lightsey’s father said he and his wife had separated, with the younger Lightsey and his mother residing in the leased apartment while the father and Jack Lightsey’s sister moved to Indian Rocks Beach.
The report indicates a 2012 Ford Mustang was registered to Lightsey on July 5, 2011, at the address of his family’s Orlando residence. Pumphrey also notes Lightsey’s drivers’ license was amended to change from the Orlando to Tampa address Nov. 16, 2011, “just one day prior to an interview with the investigator.”
On Nov. 29, 2011, Pumphrey traveled to the Orlando residence, observing furniture in the house and utilities that appeared to be turned on. A neighbor, asked by Pumphrey whether they still see the husband or wife at the house, replied: “I see them all the time.”
The elder Lightsey said in his interview he still maintains a home office in that residence. Lightsey’s mother didn’t respond to an e-mail Monday evening.
Baines, who played at East Bay High as a junior, is accused of submitting a fraudulent lease agreement to attend Armwood. Baines’ father, Kenneth, told Pumphrey he and his son moved in with a cousin who resides in Armwood’s district in January and began paying rent.
The cousin, Emon Keller Washington, told the investigator in a subsequent interview Kenneth Baines paid no rent. When asked by Pumphrey whether the receipts furnished by the elder Baines were fake, Washington replied: “Yes, please don’t make his baby sit out of the playoffs.”
Sneed’s stepfather, Eric Collins, is accused of telling Pumphrey his family of five was forced to move temporarily from their Plant City residence into a friend’s home in the Armwood district “because of a sinkhole problem.” He’s also accused of obtaining fraudulent verification of utilities service from that same friend, a Tampa Electric Company employee.
In a subsequent interview, regional geologists James W. Pease denied Collins’ sinkhole claim.
“The repairs would have been made without the owners having to relocate, and that was the (basis) for my report,” Pease said.
The report also determines Newton used his grandmother’s address to enroll at Armwood. Carrington was found to have enrolled at Armwood using the electric bill of another Hawks player.
“I know that parents want to provide their children with the best opportunities for success. But we need to assure them that we cannot do that at the expense of an entire athletic program at a school or for that school generally,” Elia said.
“We are committed to making sure that our student-athletes meet eligibility requirements and we will work with our schools to make sure all play by the rules.”
More nuggets from the Florida High School Athletic Association’s investigative report into the Armwood High School football program.
• Eric Collins, stepfather of Armwood player Javonte Sneed, obtained a fraudulent verification of electric service with help from Duran Bell, a Tampa Electric Company employee. According to David Wojciechowicz, another TECO employee who aided Bell: “… Listen I was just doing a favor for a friend that’s all.”
• In an initial home interview with Kenneth Baines, father of Armwood player Keionne Baines, Baines told the investigator that “he is not Kenneth Baines but merely the boyfriend of” the home’s co-owner. In a later meeting with Baines and Armwood principal Mike Ippolito, “Mr. Baines shows up for the meeting having removed his thick mustache and beard previously observed by the investigator.”
• Emon Keller Washington, cousin of Keionne Baines, said she prepared a lease for Kenneth Baines — even though she doesn’t own the house — “Because he would need a lease for his baby to come from Brandon. Also so he would have a proof of residence so he can enroll his kid at Armwood.”
• John Lightsey, father of Armwood player Jack Lightsey who transferred from Orlando, said he “talked with Coach Callahan prior to enrolling at Armwood High School. Mr. and Mrs. Lightsey along with student Lightsey visits the Armwood campus and meets with Coach Callahan for approximately 30 minutes or so in Callahan’s office.”
• Armwood football assistant Isaac Anderson told the investigator: “If a kid wants to play I would assume that coach Callahan would Google the kid to see if there is any film on the kid. …I’m assuming the parent or the kid tries to establish contact with coach Callahan. I’m assuming coach Callahan at that point does a football background check on the kid; can the kid play football.”
For the complete report, go here.