The public chirping over student discipline, school safety and teacher accountability sure quiets down when those issues surround an undefeated high school football team.
The Florida High School Athletic Association this week forced Nature Coast Technical High School to forfeit its scheduled playoff game Friday evening, fined the school $10,400 and put the program on probation as a result of the Nov. 7 bench-clearing brawl between the Sharks and Groveland South Lake.
Supporters of Nature Coast think the team and head coach Jamie Joyner got a raw deal from the state association. They point to the circumstances of the fight — occurring amid a blackout in Groveland — which left few credible eyewitness accounts and no available video. Rooting for the home team is a natural reaction to the heavy fine and forfeitures that cost the Sharks a chance for an undefeated regular season and their first-ever playoff game.
The sympathy, however, is misplaced. The truly innocent party here is Central High School's football team, which also saw its season end a game early. That was the unfortunate result of being scheduled as the final regular season opponent for Nature Coast on Nov. 14. The FHSAA canceled that game as well while it reviewed reports of the Nov. 7 fight and district administrators didn't take advantage of the opportunity to allow Central to play a final game against another opponent.
Where was the community outrage then? Those flashing indignation over a perceived lack of fair play against Nature Coast should have pressed for a more equitable resolution for Central, whose players were penalized through no fault of their own.
Instead, we get School Board member Pat Fagan publicly promising support for Nature Coast, even though Joyner is suspended with pay amid accusations — denied by the coach — that he contributed to the fracas. Meanwhile, the school appealed unsuccessfully to the FHSAA and boosters ran to the courthouse in an ill-advised attempt to circumvent the state authority that governs high school athletics.
Consider the lesson these adults are sending to student athletes denied the privilege of participating in an extracurricular activity because of obnoxious, potentially dangerous behavior by the teenagers and their adult supervisor. Accept responsibility? No. Appeal. Question the credibility of the objective witness. Blame others. It tells teenagers wins and losses are more important than personal accountability.
Joyner said he received a black eye after being hit with a helmet. If so, and players were swinging football helmets as weapons, the FHSAA was correct to put a premium on student safety and end the seasons for both Nature Coast and Groveland South Lake.
The state is teaching a tough, but valuable lesson: Actions have consequences. We understand teenagers can lack the maturity to accept personal responsibility, but they could use some good adult role models right now.
Nature Coast's football team is left with blemishes on its record from its own behavior — far more significant than the two forfeits — and the knowledge the only players and coach responsible for hanging losses on the Sharks this season were their own.