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It's time to end St. Petersburg Catholic's postseason ban

The slowly setting sun casts a golden glow over one of the final St. Petersburg Catholic practices of the spring. The Barons are running and passing and tackling in preparation for their spring game and, they hope, so much more.

Oh, sure, there's the love of the game and personal pride and — when you're getting your marching orders from your coach, who also happens to be an ordained minister — God.

That's plenty, most will tell you.

But it's not enough.

This would be: SPC should be allowed to compete for a district playoff spot this season.

If Nick Bollea can be moved out of solitary confinement, so can the Barons.

Having served two years of a three-year ban, SPC will appeal its penalty one final time Thursday, after last year's attempt failed by a 7-6 vote.

"I know that our kids would be extremely excited," second-year coach Tod Creneti said. "It would mean a lot. It would breathe some life into our seniors."

You know, the seniors. The guys who were just freshmen when the SPC football program ran afoul of the rules. The guys who found out they'd never be considered for a district title even before they played their first varsity game.

Those seniors.

And yes, I know. SPC cheated, and was caught. Again.

It recruited players, according to the Florida High School Athletic Association (and just about every coach in the county). And the coaches were at practices they shouldn't have been.

But here's the thing.

The assistant coaches caught at those practices are gone.

Then-coach Dan Mancuso is gone.

Ann Marie Mancuso, the athletic director who tolerated years of accusations, reprimands and fines handed down because of her husband and his staff, is gone.

Is it enough that SPC paid a $13,000 fine, and the door to the playoffs has been bolted shut for two years, and it wasn't allowed to play in spring or fall exhibition games in 2006?

You bet.

To his credit, Creneti has worked hard at restoring a sense of purpose for his team, and new athletic director John Gerdes has done the same for Barons athletics.

They insist they are stressing integrity, and doing things right, and playing by the rules. They are making an honest program out of SPC.

"We have earned the right to at least be heard," Creneti said.

The former Lakewood assistant said it wasn't an easy first year, but he is making the kind of decisions that should please the FHSAA.

He kept popular and deserving coaches Mike Lynch and Frank Girardi.

He changed the uniforms, trading in the black and yellow for more golden ones.

He has worked hard repairing the relationships with the rest of the county's coaches, relationships destroyed by public school paranoia of poaching.

Heck, the Barons played St. Petersburg High in a spring game that, quite honestly, should be a regular-season tradition. And just maybe Creneti can make that happen one day.

It would be quite the accomplishment in a county where the relationship between private and public schools is ridiculously toxic.

"We want to eradicate the idea we're trying to undermine the public schools," Creneti said. "But there will always be people that are suspicious."

The son of a 33-year Pennsylvania and Virginia coaching veteran, Creneti came back to St. Petersburg to raise his family, which includes 3- and 5-year-old daughters, and to coach.

Until the stain of the previous staff is completely gone, how can he really begin?

To be fair, the FHSAA is in a tough spot, and even Creneti grants it that. On one hand, it rendered a decision and may feel the need to stand behind it as an example to the rest of the state.

On the other, the organization has generally rewarded programs for any in-house cleaning, and SPC brought in a new coach and athletic director.

Had it done so sooner, Thursday's meeting probably wouldn't be happening based on last year's close vote. SPC wasn't deserving then. SPC principal Father John Serio should have acted more quickly in 2006. More forcefully. More openly.

Instead, Mancuso was allowed to keep his job after the penalties were handed down. It wasn't until the Barons were 1-4, and until five days before their first appeal in 2006, that the coach resigned.

Even after that, his wife was allowed to keep her job as athletic director. Together, the two had ruled over a tumultuous time punctuated by fines and reprimands.

Eventually, though, SPC did the right thing.

Now, it's the FHSAA's turn.

It's time to end St. Petersburg Catholic's postseason ban 06/10/08 [Last modified: Saturday, June 14, 2008 10:44pm]
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