BROOKSVILLE — Nature Coast Technical High School's magical football season crashed to the turf Wednesday when the state's scholastic athletic governing board forced the Sharks to forfeit Friday's playoff game among other severe sanctions.
The Florida High School Athletic Association notified Nature Coast and Groveland South Lake of its final ruling in its investigation into a Nov. 7 brawl between the schools during a football game at Groveland.
In a letter to Nature Coast principal Tizzy Schoelles, the FHSAA ruled:
• The Nature Coast football program is placed on restrictive probation for the remainder of the 2008 season, meaning it will be forced to forfeit its Class 3A region quarterfinal playoff game Friday against Williston. Williston automatically advances to the region semifinal.
• Nature Coast is levied fines totaling $10,400 for violating several rules, including 48 individual counts of unsportsmanlike conduct at $100 each.
• The Nature Coast football program is placed on administrative probation effective immediately through June 30, 2010.
• The Nature Coast athletic program is reprimanded.
South Lake was fined $8,500, reprimanded, and the football team was placed on restrictive probation until June 30, 2009. Also, the team was placed on administrative probation for the remainder of this school year and through June 30, 2010.
Both schools can appeal the ruling, but such an appeal would not be held until later this month.
Nature Coast lost its shot at a perfect season when the athletic association canceled the team's final regular-season game against Central High School following the South Lake brawl. The Sharks, at 9-1, were poised to move into the postseason for the second time since the school began varsity football play in 2004.
Late Tuesday night, while the status of their football team was still in jeopardy, around 75 backers of Nature Coast attended the Hernando County School Board meeting in an emotional expression of support.
"The referee is wrong," said parent Susanne Dockery, criticizing officials' role in the brawl. "Being humans, referees sometimes get it wrong."
She said she couldn't believe what the referee claimed, that Head Coach Jamie Joyner threw punches during the bench-clearing melee that followed a power outage at the end of the game.
"What I believe to be true (is) that Coach Joyner would not willingly or knowingly harm any person on that field," Dockery added.
Joyner was suspended for six weeks by the athletic association and suspended with pay by the School Board pending an investigation. Senior lineman Brad Lucier was suspended indefinitely and the entire team was suspended for an indeterminate period.
District officials have said they would not take further action until the association issues its final ruling. The Lake County Sheriff's Office is investigating the incident and could file criminal charges.
But the parents at Tuesday's meeting said the School Board should stand by the team.
"Reading in the paper, what most affects me is the conjecture and speculation from other high schools in the county," said Greg Jerave, citing Joyner as a "major person for molding my son's character."
"What I was hoping to get from you guys is a vote of confidence," he added. "That you support our petition to get an injunction to let us play."
Ken Lucier criticized an "unacceptable investigation," and said his son had acted honorably.
"His actions were based upon his devotion to his teammates and the athletic staff at Nature Coast High School," he said. "He is the type of person who would give everything he has and take nothing for himself."
Board members said they would support their schools in any case.
"We need to stick by you until this thing is over," said member Pat Fagan. "You will have my support."
Tom Marshall can be reached at firstname.lastname@example.org or (352) 848-1431.