Make us your home page

Today’s top headlines delivered to you daily.

(View our Privacy Policy)

Hillsborough school district is sued over athletic policy

TAMPA — One year into a new athletic transfer policy, the Hillsborough County school district is defending itself in a lawsuit that argues the whole process is illegal.

The suit, filed by Sickles High School senior Justin Fragnito, contends state law gives him the right to play football because he has been at Sickles since the beginning of the school year.

Fragnito, 18, is represented by Peter Hobson, the same lawyer who brought a lawsuit in Pasco County on behalf of soccer standout Michael Mazza.

At issue in both lawsuits are policies — allowed by the Florida High School Athletic Association — that require students past their freshman year to sit out playing for an entire calendar year if they change schools.

That might be all right with the FHSAA, which is charged with overseeing state law, Hobson said. But state law gives students a right to play if they have been at the school since the school year began.

Fragnito, a 6-foot, 210-pound linebacker, transferred to Sickles after spending his previous years at the private Jesuit High School. Fragnito was told he would not be able to play because of the new Hillsborough district policy.

Sickles, which was 8-1 before Friday's game against Alonso, won the Class 7A, District 7 championship this year — the first district title in school history. The Gryphons face Plant City next week in the playoffs.

Hillsborough devised its new policy in the aftermath of an eligibility scandal that cost Armwood High School a district title in 2011.

Like other policies around the state, it's designed to prevent schools and coaches from recruiting marquee players out of their neighborhood schools.

While the intent might be noble, Hobson said, the execution has come at the expense of student rights.

"At the core of these situations, the real problem is that high school administrators loathe athletics," Hobson said.

The Hillsborough policy requires schools to turn down student athletes for one calendar year if they transfer after the ninth grade.

Four sets of exceptions are allowed, but those decisions must be made by a committee outside the school. For example: If the family has made a "full and complete move" or if the district has transferred the students because of special learning needs, the committee can allow the transfer.

There have been more than 400 such requests this year, said athletics director Lanness Robinson. At least 90 percent have been granted. Those who are denied can continue on to the School Board.

Robinson would not comment on the lawsuit but said that overall, schools and athletes are adjusting to the new system.

"Any time you start something new, you are going to have growing pains," Robinson said. "But obviously, it's gotten a lot better."

Marlene Sokol can be reached at (813) 226-3356 or

Hillsborough school district is sued over athletic policy 11/08/13 [Last modified: Friday, November 8, 2013 10:30pm]
Photo reprints | Article reprints

© 2017 Tampa Bay Times


Join the discussion: Click to view comments, add yours

  1. Jones: Bucs need success to get national respect


    Tampa Bay Times columnist Tom Jones offers up his Two Cents on the world of sports.

    No respect

    Tampa Bay Buccaneers head coach Dirk Koetter walks the field during the second day of mandatory minicamp at One Buccaneer Place in Tampa, Fla., on Wednesday, June 14, 2017. LOREN ELLIOTT   |   Times
  2. Hopes fade after landslide destroys Chinese village (w/video)


    Crews searching through the night in the rubble left by a landslide that buried a mountain village under tons of soil and rocks in southwestern China found 15 bodies, but more than 110 more people remained missing.

    Vehicles and people line a road leading to the site of a landslide in Xinmo village in Mao County on Saturday in southwestern China’s Sichuan Province. More than 100 people remained missing after the village was buried under tons of rocks and soil.
  3. Rookie Jake Faria dissatisfied with performance in Rays' loss to Orioles

    The Heater

    ST. PETERSBURG — The rookie pitcher walked to his locker Saturday after tossing the fourth quality start in as many tries to begin his career. He held the potent Orioles bats to three runs and for six innings gave his team a chance to win.

    Orioles third baseman Manny Machado tags out the Rays’ Mallex Smith at third after a rundown in the first inning.
  4. Thousands converge in two St. Pete locations celebrating LGBT rights

    Human Interest

    ST. PETERSBURG — Tom Rockhill didn't know what to expect Saturday, but by noon people were knocking on the door of his bar Right Around the Corner in Grand Central.

    (From left to right) Emma Chalut 18, gets a rainbow sticker on her cheek from her sister Ellie, 15 both of Jacksonville before the annual St. Pete Pride parade in downtown St. Petersburg on Saturday. This year the route was changed from the Grand Central and Kenwood area to Bayshore Drive.
[EVE EDELHEIT   |   Times]
  5. Retired Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald dies

    TALLAHASSEE — A former Florida Supreme Court justice, who wrote a decision that prevented lawyers from excluding jurors because of their race, has died.

    Former Florida Supreme Court Justice Parker Lee McDonald died Saturday, the court said in a statement. He was 93.