Thursday, May 24, 2018
Education

Armwood High School principal concurs with violations report; school likely to lose title

The principal at Armwood High School has agreed with a majority of the findings detailed in a scathing 45-page report on the football program by the state's prep sports governing body.

Now the Hawks brace for the fallout, which likely will include being stripped of the state title they won in December.

Principal Michael Ippolito's formal response to the Florida High School Athletic Association report was released Tuesday by the Hillsborough County School District. Ippolito indicated he agreed that the families of five members of Armwood's 2011 state championship team falsified information to enroll at the Seffner school.

Of the 17 noted violations involving the students, Ippolito concurred with all but two. The only dissents were the FHSAA's findings that two of the students participated in football during the 2010-11 school year while ineligible (the students' names were redacted in Armwood's response). Ippolito said they participated in no athletic contests for Armwood at that time.

Ippolito also agreed that two "representatives" of Armwood athletic interests participated in falsifying data to assist a student in attending the school.

"For the record, I would point out that the 'representatives' were parents or friends of parents, and not school district employees," Ippolito wrote.

The FHSAA has up to 10 business days to level its sanctions, but executive director Roger Dearing said Tuesday that it likely won't take nearly that long, projecting Armwood could learn its punishment as early as Thursday.

According to FHSAA bylaws, teams must forfeit games in which ineligible players participate. Because at least four of the players participated in all 15 of last season's games, Armwood's record could go from 15-0 to 0-15.

"If you play an ineligible player, either on purpose or accidentally, you must forfeit those games," Dearing said.

The school also must pay costs of the FHSAA's six-month investigation, which Dearing said is $7,500, and perhaps monetary fines. If false information is given to attain athletic eligibility but no one at the school is complicit, Dearing said a self-report fine of $100 per player, per contest is imposed.

According to Ippolito's response, at least four of the five players competed in all 15 games ($1,500 per player). Add the investigative costs, and the final price tag could be between $15,000 and $20,000.

The school may appeal the sanctions. A lawyer representing several players' families has said his clients likely will appeal.

Coach Sean Callahan said he had not seen Ippolito's response and declined to comment.

The FHSAA inquiry was spawned by an ABC Action News report questioning whether the family of offensive lineman Jack Lightsey, who attended Orlando's Dr. Phillips High as a junior, had made a "full and complete move" into Armwood's geographic school district. The investigation, conducted by Hillsborough High employee and retired Washington, D.C., detective Troy Pumphrey, expanded from there.

Eventually, it found that the family of leading tackler Keionne Baines, who played at East Bay in 2010, submitted a fraudulent lease agreement to attend Armwood. It also reported the stepfather of receiver Javonte Sneed fraudulently obtained verification of utilities services from a friend who worked at Tampa Electric Co.

Sophomore Greg Newton was found to have used his grandmother's address to enroll at Armwood, while freshman Craig Carrington was determined to have enrolled at the school using a teammate's electric bill.

Ippolito agreed with all of those findings after spending what Hillsborough County athletic director Lanness Robinson said were "lots" of hours following up on the FHSAA report.

"I honestly didn't try to keep track of (the hours), but it was a lot of time," Robinson said. "And it was mostly Mr. Ippolito."

Ippolito has also ruled five prospective football players who have enrolled at Armwood since Jan. 1 ineligible for a calendar year for "falsifying residency information." Five others were ruled ineligible for spring football because they did not make a "full and complete move" into Armwood's zone and/or had academic concerns.

Ippolito and the school district also have implemented a series of corrective actions.

Armwood now will require multiple forms of residency proof from the families of prospective transfers and will conduct unannounced home visits "when warranted." In addition, Ippolito will serve on a districtwide committee to assist in establishing transfer policies and safeguards for future eligibility rulings.

Dearing said Ippolito and the Hillsborough School District have been "up front" and "very cooperative." For example, when the FHSAA asked for the names of the prospective student-athletes who have enrolled at Armwood since Jan. 1, the school provided the names of all 157 students, even non-athletes.

"I will tell you everyone I've worked with and spoken to from the district is very concerned about this, and intent on tightening procedures," Dearing said. "They've made policies but no excuses."

Joey Knight can be reached at [email protected]

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