East Lake coach Terry Small said Friday that he has resigned as the volleyball team's head coach and barring an unforeseen turn of events will coach the Eagles for the last time against Stuart Martin County Saturday at 2:30 p.m. in the Class 5A state title game.
Small, in his 14th season, had been removed from his coaching position before a Sept. 9 match against Clearwater and watched that Eagles victory from the stands. He was reinstated a day later by principal Bob Poth.
Small said he resigned roughly a week after that, effective at the end of the season. Small said he would like to continue coaching but he hopes his resignation gets the East Lake program out of the crosshairs of the Florida High School Athletic Association. Spokesman Seth Polansky confirmed Thursday its investigation of Small and the East Lake program had been suspended at the time of Small's initial removal -- an unusual but not unprecedented step -- but will conclude shortly after the volleyball season is over.
Polansky also said any violations the FHSAA had uncovered prior to Sept. 9 weren't anything that would cause East Lake to be ineligible for the playoffs or be stripped of a state title should they win one. But he did not rule out such punishment if further violations had been discovered since then.
Small and his players got emotional after the semifinal win over Lakeland Friday. Setter Rachel Reed brought up what she called "the drama of the season" and decried all the "bad things said about him.'' Reed said the Eagles mission this season has been to win a "title for Terry."
"I love you Terry,'' she said, reaching out to Small, who was fighting back tears. Small, Reed, sophomore Brooke Burkett and junior Jackie Wegner then shared a group hug.
"I don't know if they know this will be my last game,'' Small said privately afterwards. "They don't want to hear it. They don't want to think about it. They just want to play volleyball. They know something is going on, but they don't ask and I really don't want to say.''