Nature Coast basketball comes under fire from FHSAA, parent

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Thu. June 10, 2010 | Izzy Gould | Email

BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast’s boys basketball program has been placed on administrative probation for a year and fined $500 after self-reporting violations to the Florida High School Athletic Association.
The school took a proactive step placing self-imposed sanctions and reporting violations to the FHSAA. Those penalties include a six-game suspension for head coach Dave Pisarcik, according to the letter sent from Nature Coast to the FHSAA. In addition, the FHSAA added a letter of reprimand to Nature Coast’s ever-growing file of infractions.
The FHSAA ruled on the following violations:
• Springstead representatives wrote in a letter to Nature Coast that Pisarcik attempted to recruit a player, whom Pisarcik admitted he had given rides to practice. “Allegedly, it was at this time statements encouraging the student to attend (Nature Coast) took place,” the FHSAA’s letter states. Springstead also accused Pisarcik of sending text messages to the student. The student, whose name was redacted supplied a handwritten note stating, “I’m a student at Springstead that plays basketball. I was working out at Nature Coast. Coach (Pisarcik) said that he could use some of our guys to help his program and Coach P told me this when he was driving me home from Nature Coast.”
• On at least two occasions, Pisarcik, 29, hosted a paid VertiMax training camp authorized by Nature Coast during the offseason with athletes from other schools, including eighth-graders. (VertiMax is a training system designed to improve speed.) Three of those eighth-graders enrolled at Nature Coast for the 2010-11 school year. The FHSAA’s letter states those athletes will have their eligibility addressed separately. One of the clinics was held on a Sunday, and the school acknowledged no facility use agreement was in place.
Allegations came to light after Mike Bergantino, father of Nature Coast star and Division I-A prospect Tyler Bergantino, sent several e-mails to school administrators. That coupled with Springstead’s complaint sparked an internal investigation.
Mike Bergantino said he has been cautious about Tyler’s eligibility, even receiving letters from the school to clear him for summer activities.
“I want a clean program,” Mike Bergantino said. “I want my kid to represent a school not on probation and suspected of cheating. … And being close to the program, I was witness to countless displays of below-board activity. My exact words to Pisarcik were, ‘If you build the program kids will want to come. You don’t have to continue to have a feeder system.’ ”
Pisarcik, principal Toni-Ann Noyes and athletic director Kristen Peeples did not return messages left by the St. Petersburg Times.
Documents obtained by the Times detail Pisarcik’s account of the breakdown in his relationship with Mike Bergantino. Problems began to escalate in September after Pisarcik declined Mike Bergantino’s request to become a volunteer assistant for the Sharks. The two coached together at Florida Fastbreak, an AAU club run by Goldie Ayers.
Some notable events:
• Springstead accused Mike Bergantino of recruiting in 2009. “The accusations turned out to hold no weight, but I know my previous principal had another meeting with him regarding his role as a parent and how what they say could be seen as recruiting,” Pisarcik said.
• In September 2009, Springstead athletic director Bob Levija accused Mike Bergantino of recruiting eighth-graders claiming to be a Nature Coast coach. “Mike Bergantino expressed some interest in trying to become an assistant coach and be part of the NCT basketball staff. … My assistants and I quickly agreed that he should remain a parent. … I couldn’t have someone who exhibits these types of behavior involved with my program. After we informed him he couldn’t be an assistant coach, all the serious harassment, defamation of my character and my program, slander, threats by e-mail and text started happening.”
• In the fall 2009, Mike Bergantino claimed Pisarcik stole $2,200 from the basketball account to pay his brother $2,000 and to buy a player a $200 pair of shoes. An audit cleared Pisarcik of wrongdoing, he said. “After that, the harassment and bullying got worse. … He also wrote an e-mail titled RIP in which he wrote my eulogy to my funeral.” Pisarcik said all e-mails and texts were turned over to the Hernando County Sheriff’s Department. A police report was filed Sept. 30.
Mike Bergantino’s relationship with Pisarcik ruptured so badly the Nature Coast coach sought — and was denied — a pair of restraining orders, Mike Bergantino said.
In terms of Tyler Bergantino’s future with Nature Coast, the decision might not be his father’s to make. Mike Bergantino is divorced from Tyler’s mother, Eve, and they share custody of Tyler, who lives with his mother. Mike Bergantino said his son, who will be a junior in the fall, has expressed a desire to remain at the school.
“I am so adamant about Tyler not playing for Dave again,” Mike Bergantino said, “I will go to family court to make sure he never plays for that guy again.”
Two parents have expressed support for Pisarcik, including Eve Bergantino, Tyler’s mother.
In a e-mail dated May 9 she wrote, “Coach Pisarcik would never intentionally break FHSAA rules and place the program, school or his players at risk. Fortunately for our students and children Coach Pisarcik always exhibits good behavior and conducts himself in a strong moral manner.”
Matt and Beverly Lowman, parents of Sharks player Blake Lowman, echoed Eve Bergantino’s sentiments about Pisarcik’s character in a letter to the school.
Pisarcik guided the Sharks to their first district title and playoff victories last season. He was named the Times’ North Suncoast Coach of the Year after a school-record 27-4 finish, one win shy of a state final four berth. Of the 15 roster players, nine were local transfers.
This marks the latest in a string of problems for Nature Coast’s athletic department.
The football program was placed on administrative probation last school year for its role in a bench-clearing brawl at Groveland South Lake. The Sharks were disqualified from the playoffs, stripped of their 2009 spring game and fined $10,400.
The school recently conducted two investigations of male coaches after allegations of improper conduct with Nature Coast female students. Ryan Wilson and former athletic director Travis Lamle were cleared and allowed to return to the classroom, but were banned from coaching girls for a period of time. Wilson coached girls weightlifting and continues to coach boys track; he is also a football assistant coach. Lamle was removed as the girls basketball coach. Their cases have been magnified because of high-profile cases of former head football coach Jamie Joyner and former band director Timothy Brightbill. Joyner resigned after it was discovered he had a sexual relationship with an 18-year-old Nature Coast student. Brightbill pleaded guilty in August to having sex with a 17-year-old girl and was sentenced to more than nine years in prison.
“I have faith in Miss Noyes,” Mike Bergantino said. “She’s a strong lady. I believe she’s there to clean up and police what’s going on at Nature Coast.”
Izzy Gould can be reached at igould@tampabay.com or (813) 421-3886.

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