The fallout from last week's bench-clearing brawl in the Nature Coast-Groveland South Lake football game continued Thursday, and now Nature Coast's postseason could be in jeopardy and players could face criminal charges.
The entire Sharks team has been suspended — the Florida High School Athletic Association suspended coach Jamie Joyner for six weeks on Monday for gross unsportsmanlike conduct — and the status of their first-round Class 3A playoff game against Williston on Nov. 21 is in doubt, according to a release sent out Thursday by the FHSAA. And Joyner, also a teacher at Nature Coast, has been suspended with pay indefinitely by the Hernando County School District, superintendent Wayne Alexander said.
FHSAA spokeswoman Cristina Alvarez said both schools have completed internal investigations and submitted reports, and FHSAA executive director Denarvise Thornton will decide Nature Coast's fate early next week.
The Lake County Sheriff's Office also is conducting a criminal investigation and expects to charge four Nature Coast players as early as today, Cpl. James Vachon said. Charges could range from misdemeanor simple battery to felony battery, but the Sheriff's Office would give those players an opportunity to refute the charges.
No coaches are expected to be charged, but Vachon said the investigation is ongoing. (In a report sent to the FHSAA by game officials, one of them identified Joyner and an unnamed Nature Coast player "throwing punches." Joyner denied throwing a punch, and Nature Coast has identified the player as Brad Lucier.) No one from South Lake has been charged because no criminal complaints have been received.
In the Sheriff Office's preliminary report, three South Lake players and coach Walter Banks were assaulted after a fuse blew during the game and the lights went out. Banks and one of his players were hit in the head by helmets and another player was jumped and kicked in the ribs, the report said. Two of those kids were taken to South Lake Hospital. The report said it was too dark to identify any suspects.
In her report to the FHSAA, Nature Coast principal Tizzy Schoelles said, "… South Lake was clearly the aggressor. … I can offer no logical explanation to the injuries sustained by the South Lake player, but the possibility exists that he was trampled by his own players as they charged across the field."
When asked if Joyner's job was in jeopardy, Schoelles said she could not comment, citing an ongoing investigation. Asked about his status as coach, she again cited the investigation.
Schoelles, who was out of town the night of the South Lake game, said in her report she interviewed all Nature Coast players and personnel and found no first-person account of Joyner or Lucier throwing a punch.
Schoelles also addresses Joyner's actions once Sharks senior linebacker Tadd Govadich was attacked by South Lake players.
"Coach Joyner stepped onto the field and pushed the South Lake players aside to assist player No. 3 (Govadich) to his feet," she wrote. "…. Please do not assume that I am gullible enough to categorize our players as choirboys, but with the absence of any conclusive accounts of Nature Coast players' involvement by the officials, I wonder if the arguing sounded worse than the physical altercation actually was."
Schoelles requested to speak with the official who identified Joyner, but the FHSAA prohibits officials from discussing rulings.