Monday, December 11, 2017
Sports

East Lake football forced to forfeit games, loses district lead

The Florida High School Athletic Association has ruled that East Lake used an ineligible player and must forfeit its first three games of the season, including wins over rival Palm Harbor University and Pinellas Park.

The Eagles, who were 3-3 overall and 2-0 in Class 7A, District 10 before the ruling, drop to 1-5 and 1-1 in district competition pending an appeal.

In the FHSAA letter obtained by the Tampa Bay Times, East Lake was notified on Sept. 20 that a football player was living in another school's zone.

East Lake administrators did their own investigation. The player filled out the proper paperwork when he enrolled at the school in January. The same address was listed in the player's packet that was filled out in May. But administrators discovered that the player and his father had moved into a relative's house in another school zone one month earlier.

The player's father said he did not notify the school of the change in living arrangements because he worked long hours and did not have time to update the new address.

East Lake self-reported the address falsification after it was discovered.

The FHSAA ruled the student ineligible until Sept. 20, 2018, and fined East Lake $300 ($100 for each game the student participated in while ineligible). A letter of reprimand also was sent to the school.

"This was something that was inadvertent," East Lake athletic director Kris Toscani said. "Our coach (Bob Hudson) did nothing wrong. Everything was done right on our end, and we did everything in accordance to the rules. There are no real procedural safeguards to prevent something like this from happening."

Toscani said Tarpon Springs notified East Lake of the infraction. The rivals play each other in their annual grudge match Tuesday night.

The Eagles beat Pinellas Park 17-16 two weeks ago. That outcome changed with the FHSAA's decision last week. The forfeit gives Pinellas Park (now 2-0 in district play) the edge in winning the 7A-10 title.

Since getting an automatic playoff berth by winning districts is likely out, East Lake will need to accumulate enough points in the FHSAA's new playoff format to make the postseason. The Eagles will still get points for the games they forfeited. But they get fewer now after two of those wins turned to losses.

"We'll have to see how the appeals process plays out," Toscani said. "All the kids can do right now is just keep playing hard and keep trying to win."

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