Land O'Lakes forfeits 23 football games

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Wed. February 15, 2012 | Matt Baker | Email

Land O'Lakes forfeits 23 football games

Land O’Lakes’ football team must forfeit every game from its last two seasons after a coach and a booster helped a player use a false address to enroll at the school, the Florida High School Athletic Association announced Wednesday.

The FHSAA ruled that the football player and his younger sister were ineligible because their enrollment included a violation of recruiting rules.

“The family was assisted by a Coach and a Football booster parent, who helped them to obtain and submit a false address to allow the students to attend Land O’Lakes High School, though they actually lived outside the District,” FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing wrote to principal Ric Mellin in a letter dated Feb. 13 but released Wednesday.

The FHSAA said the football player played in 11 games last fall and 12 games in 2010. The penalty for using an ineligible player is forfeiture.

The Gators finished 9-2 in 2010 and were eliminated in the first round of the playoffs by Jefferson. They finished 7-3 last fall, snapping their 14-year playoff streak.

The football player appeared in five weightlifting competitions this school year, and his sister – a JV volleyball player – appeared in 16 games as a freshman.

The FHSAA fined the school $100 for each forfeit from the 2011-12 school year, $3,200. The FHSAA could have set a minimum fine of $2,500 per game but reduced the penalty because the school self-reported the violation.

The report redacted the student-athletes’ names but said they have been withdrawn from the school.

The coach involved in the violation "was relieved of coaching responsibilities" by the principal, according to the FHSAA’s letter. Mellin told the Times on Wednesday afternoon that it "goes back to the former coach," Matt Kitchie, and that no other employees were removed from their duties.

Kitchie was suspended indefinitely for an off-field incident before the 2010 regular-season finale and was officially let go after that season.

Kitchie, now head coach at Leto, strongly denied involvement in the violation.

"This is false," Kitchie said Wednesday. "I know nothing about this. I didn't even know there was an investigation."

Brian Wachtel, who was hired by the Gators in January 2011, remains the head coach. No current staff members are being investigated, said Pasco County School District spokeswoman Summer Romagnoli.

Land O'Lakes self-reported the violation Feb. 10 after a “concerned parent” called the school, according to the FHSAA.

District athletic director Phil Bell commended Land O’Lakes and Mellin for quickly addressing the issue and self-reporting the violation.

“I credit Ric Mellin for moving quickly on this,” Bell said.

Land O'Lakes has 10 days to appeal the ruling.

"We will take a look at what their decision was and then make a determination as to whether to appeal," Mellin said.

The FHSAA also placed the school on administrative probation until June 1, 2013, and reprimanded the school. The unnamed booster involved has been removed from the club, and the school has reviewed how the falsification happened and is changing its enrollment requirements to prevent it from happening again.

Times staff writers John C. Cotey and Jeffrey Solochek contributed to this report.

Times staff writer Matt Baker can be reached at mbaker@tampabay.com.

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