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Cotey: Time for Nature Coast to just move on

The equipment is being put away.

The lockers are being cleaned out.

The playbook is being shelved.

Will the last one to leave the Nature Coast Tech football office please turn out the lights?

Okay, bad choice of words.

The Sharks' playoff hopes were harpooned Wednesday by the Florida High School Athletic Association, which delivered a stiff spanking to a football program that just two weeks ago was going somewhere.

Then the lights went out in the middle of nowhere, in a place called Groveland, and depending on whom you want to believe, all hell broke loose, or just enough of it to convince the FHSAA it was time to end the Sharks' season.

No postseason.

A whopping fine of $10,400.

Another black eye (to add to the one coach Jamie Joyner reportedly received in the brawl).

It's a harsh penalty, one of the toughest ever doled out by the FHSAA.

But is it fair?

Absolutely.

It is true the FHSAA lacks a piece of conclusive evidence, save for the referee's report from the game. No Zapruder film has emerged, thanks to the darkness, pointing out the guilty parties. In a perfect world, the FHSAA suspends the handful of players involved, and Friday's playoffs go on.

Left with the decision to do something or nothing, the FHSAA reacted with force.

Both schools filed reports. Chances are, both were conflicting. Most likely, they canceled each other out and left the FHSAA with a referee's report that makes some troubling claims, namely that Joyner threw punches.

Nature Coast principal Tizzy Schoelles isn't ready to accept the five-sentence report issued by the referee as the final word.

If she were, she'd have to strongly consider firing her coach, whom she stands firmly behind. Unless his appeal is successful, and he survives a school board investigation as well, Joyner will serve a six-week suspension that could drag through the first four weeks of next season.

If he returns, he has work to do getting his program out of the mud, if he is the man to do it, and a good many think he may not be.

I'm not ready to hang the Groveland incident around Joyner's neck. How many coaches have their teams prepared for the lights going out, or are able to control human instinct, which in the heat of a football game in a stadium that is suddenly dark on a field where teenagers wearing armor make bad decisions?

It doesn't make the reaction right, but it doesn't always make it the coach's fault either.

And count me among the few who don't blame Joyner for last year's overplayed "brawl" against Central.

It was the Bears, stomping on the Sharks logo at midfield, who instigated the altercation. It was the Bears who showed no class that night. And it was Joyner whom I saw in a video of the fracas, pulling his kids away from the midfield scrum.

But details like that rarely get in the way of a good narrative, especially the one that reads Nature Coast has been in two brawls now in less than a year.

That said, in a short time Nature Coast, particularly the football team, has become reviled and its reputation ensures, perhaps fairly, it will never get the benefit in situations like the one in Groveland.

Does the school think the FHSAA has forgotten the recruiting in 2006?

Or the fact that Joyner let two players who had been arrested for robbery stay in the program (until they were suspended a month later)?

Or last year's midfield altercation with Central, no matter who started it, for which Nature Coast received the stiffer fines?

Do you think Schoelles had any chance when she pleaded the Sharks' case before the FHSAA? "I think maybe that does hurt,'' she said.

No need to fight the FHSAA decision. Forget an appeal, it will be a waste of time. Drop any threats of an injunction.

Be contrite.

Then put the equipment away.

Close the lockers.

Stick the playbook somewhere safe.

And the next time someone walks into that Nature Coast Tech football office, make sure he or she is ready to turn on the lights, and turn a new page.

John C. Cotey can be reached at johncotey@gmail.com.

Cotey: Time for Nature Coast to just move on 11/19/08 [Last modified: Saturday, November 22, 2008 10:23pm]
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