Friday, December 15, 2017
Education

Sunlake High dad upset about son's ousting from soccer sideline

A year ago, all-conference midfielder Michael Mazza led the Pasco High Pirates soccer team on an improbable region semifinal run.

When he returned to Pasco High last week as a manager of rival Sunlake High's team, the senior got the cold shoulder from his former coach and principal, who had him removed from the sidelines as the game kicked off.

And that has his dad, Salvatore Mazza, ticked off.

"Am I wrong, but is my son not allowed to attend a school function at Pasco High School as a student of Sunlake High School when (their) school is involved without having a problem or being disruptive?" Mazza, who recently sued the Pasco school district over its athletic participation policy, wrote in an email to superintendent Kurt Browning.

He sent a complaint to the district student services department, asking for a sit-down to address what he considered mistreatment of his son. District spokeswoman Linda Cobbe said no meetings or other actions have occurred.

"It's an emotionally charged issue that could have been handled better," Cobbe said. "But you have to take into consideration that there are hurt feelings here. If it were any other kid, it may not have happened."

In the spring, Mazza transferred to Sunlake High for his senior year. His family claimed he was the victim of bullying that he was trying to escape. Soon after, he requested permission to play on the highly regarded Sunlake soccer team.

The district denied his request, alleging that some recruiting might have occurred in Mazza's move to the 2013 state semifinalist. The Mazzas sued in local circuit court, but lost and have not refiled their claim elsewhere.

Michael Mazza settled for occasionally helping the Seahawks from the sidelines as a manager.

Shortly after he showed up for the Jan. 9 game against his former team, Pasco coach Barry Grayling contacted Pasco principal Kari Kadlub on the walkie talkie.

"He brought to my attention that (Sunlake) had a player on the bench who was not on the roster," said Kadlub, the administrator assigned to the game. "I knew who he was talking about."

Mazza was wearing Sunlake colors, but not a team uniform. He was not slated to play.

Pasco High listed its team manager on its roster, but Sunlake did not. So Kadlub went to the Sunlake bench to discuss the issue with Seahawks coach Sam Koleduk.

She said Koleduk offered to add Mazza's name, but Kadlub explained that it was too late to alter the roster.

"The coach said, 'Well, I'll put him in the stands. But now he becomes your responsibility to watch,' " Kadlub said.

That's what happened. Mazza spent time in the stands with friends, and Kadlub kept an eye on him until he left after the 3-2 Seahawks win.

She never approached him: "I didn't want him to feel picked on."

It was nothing personal, after all, Kadlub said. She just wanted to enforce the rules, as she had them explained by her coach and a referee.

But there is no such rule, said Alex Ozuna, assistant director of athletics for the Florida High School Athletic Association.

"There is no cap on the team personnel who can be on the bench during a regular season game," Ozuna said.

The FHSAA soccer manual makes clear that the game roster is to be used to track eligibility of student-athletes who play in the game.

Otherwise, Ozuna said, "it really depends on the school district."

Pasco athletic director Phil Bell said the district also generally considers rosters to be for athletes playing in the game, and not for the managers, statisticians and others who sit on the sidelines. If anything, he said, teams list those helpers to get into the gate at an away field.

"It's my opinion that those decisions are school decisions," Bell said, suggesting that Pasco and Sunlake could reach different stances on whether to include them on the rosters.

The controversy remains on the administration's radar.

"I see it as, hopefully, a situation we will evaluate, make adjustments and learn from there," Bell said.

Jeffrey S. Solochek can be reached at [email protected], (813) 909-4614 or on Twitter @jeffsolochek. For more education news visit the Gradebook at tampabay.com/blogs/gradebook.

   
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