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Armwood High School has no defense for football team's FHSAA sins

Armwood High School filed its response Tuesday afternoon.

Or, if you will, its confession.

Yes, principal Michael Ippolito wrote to the Florida High School Athletic Association, my school did have five football players whose parents falsified their addresses, whose parents essentially lied and cheated to get into Armwood.

Yes, one of my school's former assistant football coaches changed his story in an apparent attempt to hinder the investigation.

And yes, my coach, Sean Callahan, did knowingly — knowingly! — allow a player from another school to practice with the Hawks before he actually enrolled at Armwood.

The only thing Ippolito disputed was whether two of the five players competed in the 2010 season.

Otherwise, guilty, on all charges.

Who's surprised? Raise your hand. Go ahead. I'll wait.

Despite all the bluster from county officials and Armwood supporters, and rumors of a possible lawsuit by the parents involved, the Hawks praying for a Hail Mary pass had to settle for Ippolito taking the equivalent of a knee.

Or was that a knee to the groin?

The appeal of the appeal, to the deluded, was that it would expose holes in the investigation and explain away the fake addresses, fake utility bills and fake rent receipts.

But when you're right, as the FHSAA is in this case, you're right, as Ippolito confessed.

In a few days, we will likely learn that the Hawks have to forfeit all of the wins from their illustrious, undefeated 2011 season, including a 40-31 win over Miami Central that gave them the Class 6A title.

They will probably have to forfeit a good many wins from 2010 as well and pay up to a $20,000 fine, give or take a few bucks for shipping and handling to send that trophy back to Gainesville.

It's hard to imagine any less of a penalty, though don't be surprised if the FHSAA takes it easy on the Armwood wallet. FHSAA officials are impressed by the county's administrative angst, its after-the-fact diligence and the determination to make sure this never ever, ever, ever happens again.

Ippolito did not exactly throw himself on the mercy of the FHSAA with his response.

No one was fired.

No one was reassigned.

No one was reprimanded.

No surprise, since superintendent MaryEllen Elia did promise to stand by her men the day the investigation's findings were released, even though she hadn't read it all.

Now that she has, presumably, read the report, she hasn't changed her mind.

Instead of heads, usually the most popular option for schools hoping for mercy, Ippolito is offering up a few corrective actions: One, a questionnaire for new students asking if they have played sports elsewhere. And two, requiring multiple forms of residency proof, like a driver's license and lease agreement, and promising the occasional drop-by for tea and proof you are living where you say you are.

No, I understand you can't check every student at every school. When under the microscope, like you are at Plant, Countryside or Armwood, however, you take extra precautions.

But after all the years of accusations, all the complaints filed with Hillsborough County, all the kvetching by area coaches that they were being raided every year, and even a case where a player falsified an address to get into Armwood just more than three years ago, and now — NOW! — we're going to need to see a driver's license and a rental agreement?

I'm guessing the FHSAA will be impressed with a new solution to an old problem, but it shouldn't be. With the numerous transfers the past few years in Hillsborough County, and an amazing lack of oversight, this isn't exactly visionary.

Here's what happens when you actually check on football players trying to come to your school, which would have been as easy in 2009 as it was last month: Ten 2012 transfers were declared ineligible at Armwood this spring.

Five of those players, by the way, are now ineligible for the whole year. And nine of the 10 were busted for falsifying addresses or not fully and completely moving into the Armwood zone.

So, in the past 12 months or so, it has been discovered 14 students had parents who lied about where they lived so their kid could play football at Armwood.

If the football program at Armwood isn't what's utterly corrupt here, then the culture of high school football in Hillsborough County might be.

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

Armwood High School has no defense for football team's FHSAA sins 06/06/12 [Last modified: Wednesday, June 6, 2012 10:47am]
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