Saturday, April 21, 2018
Sports

Armwood High football team must forfeit state title, pay more than $12,000

Since recently acknowledging it used five ineligible football players during its undefeated state championship season last fall, Armwood High has awaited the grim formality of having its title taken away.

The wait ended Tuesday, with a 16-page document steeped in stern language and irony.

Nearly six months to the day after their 40-31 victory against Miami Central in the Class 6A final, the Hawks must relinquish their trophy and pay more than $12,000 in fines and investigative costs, the Florida High School Athletic Association informed the school Tuesday.

Officially, the school must forfeit every game in which the ineligible players — three of whom were starters — participated last season. Additionally, Armwood must forfeit 11 games (10 of them victories) from the 2010 season in which an ineligible player competed.

The football program also was placed on three years' administrative probation and given a letter of reprimand. Principal Michael Ippolito, coach Sean Callahan and athletic director Don Hill must attend an FHSAA compliance seminar.

Armwood will not appeal, Hillsborough County school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said. Peter J. Hobson, a local lawyer representing several Armwood parents, previously indicated his clients likely would appeal.

Callahan declined to comment when reached Tuesday, referring all questions to Ippolito, who was attending a teachers' job fair at Jefferson High.

University of Oklahoma-bound outside linebacker Eric Striker, the catalyst of Armwood's 2011 defense, declined to comment. Left guard Cody Waldrop, reached Tuesday at the University of South Carolina, said the '11 team will forever be champion in his eyes.

"No matter what happens, no one can take that season and that day (the state title game) away from us," said Waldrop, who signed with the Gamecocks in February.

The $12,743.46 price tag includes $6,543.46 for the costs of a six-month investigation conducted by Troy Pumphrey, a former Washington detective hired as an independent contractor for $250 a day. The $6,200 in fines breaks down to a $100 per player penalty for each game in which an ineligible student athlete participated.

FHSAA policies call for a $2,500 per student, per contest fine, but the FHSAA lowered the penalty considerably because the school cooperated with the investigation.

"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," FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing told the Tampa Bay Times last week.

Hegarty said the school is on the hook for the investigative costs, but emphasized no taxpayer money will be used to pay them.

However, Hegarty said, Armwood will require the parents of the ineligible players — even those who have graduated — to pay their share of the fine. He cited a form parents sign at the beginning of the school year agreeing to pay any monetary penalties incurred by them or their children.

"Our point of view is that we're expecting that the parents will do the right and fair thing and pay their portion of the fine," Hegarty said. "If they do not, what remedies do we have? We would consult with the School Board attorney to see what those remedies might be. We hope it doesn't come to that."

The penalties represent the culmination of a drawn-out saga that began with an ABC Action News investigative report last fall questioning whether the family of offensive lineman Jack Lightsey, who attended Orlando's Dr. Phillips High as a junior, made a "full and complete move" into Armwood's geographic school zone as required by FHSAA bylaws.

A 45-page report detailing Pumphrey's findings revealed Lightsey and four other members of the 2011 team falsified residence information, ranging from false lease agreements to fraudulent verification of utilities service, to enroll at the school.

Two weeks ago, Ippolito indicated he agreed with all the substantial findings in a formal response to the investigation.

Additionally, Ippolito wrote that he deemed one of the five players, previously identified by the Times as receiver Javonte Sneed, ineligible in August 2010 upon discovering Sneed officially was still enrolled at Durant High. Ippolito noted Sneed played in 11 games that fall, before it was determined he provided fraudulent information to an FHSAA appeals committee that had cleared him to play.

On Tuesday, Lightsey maintained his family's innocence, saying he and his mother moved into an apartment in Armwood's zone after the separation of his parents and filled out all the necessary transfer paperwork Armwood required. In Pumphrey's report, Lightsey's dad said he and Lightsey's sister moved to Indian Rocks Beach, with the dad maintaining a home office in Orlando.

"I know at the end of the day me and my family did right and a few of the other families did right and we can't help that the administration at Armwood High didn't give us the right information that put us in this situation," said Lightsey, who recently signed with Mercer University in Macon, Ga.

"It's just a shame that my character and my family's character has gone downhill because of wrong accusations and a terrible, terrible investigation that doesn't show both sides of the story, honestly."

Bearing some of the collateral damage will be Callahan's quest for a milestone. He initially entered the 2012 season three victories shy of 200. The 25 forfeited wins leave his career victory total at 172.

His players, however, get to keep the medals presented to them at the conclusion of the state title game and the championship rings purchased through private donations.

"I'd like to see the FHSAA try to take (the ring) from me," Lightsey said. "I'd love to see them try."

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