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Parents of ineligible Armwood players played big role in scandal

TAMPA — The guys all have their rings and will wear them proudly — defiantly — today, to be sure.

Bad news arrived Monday afternoon, but the score in last year's Class 6A state football title game hasn't changed: Armwood 40, Miami Central 31.

There is no investigation, declaration, decision or announcement that can ever, in the eyes of the guys on that field that day, take that game away.

But I wonder about the parents of the five Armwood High School players essentially declared ineligible, the ones who made up electric bills and addresses and rent receipts, the ones who lied about where they lived instead of doing the right thing — moving into the zone where they wanted their son to play football.

How do they feel today?

I wonder what they are thinking when they look at their sons sporting those fancy championship rings.

Are they sad? Disappointed? Humiliated?

Are they happy today?

Or is all that matters that the rings still gleam and the score in last year's Class 6A state title game hasn't changed? Armwood 40, Miami Central 31.

• • •

That sound you heard Monday evening right around dinner time was a steel-toed shoe falling on Armwood's football program.

After six months, the Florida High School Athletic Association issued the findings of its investigation into a handful of residency issues involving Hawks players.

The conclusion: Five players were ineligible, and every game they played in will likely be forfeited.

That's 10 regular-season games and five playoff games, including one state final.

There will probably be a massive fine. Thousands and thousands of dollars.

We'll find all that out when the other shoe drops in 10 days.

But Monday was devastating enough.

Five players. All living somewhere other than where they told the Armwood administration.

Don't get this twisted. This isn't about coaches recruiting, or kids transferring.

It's about parents cheating.

It's about using a fake electric bill to get your kid into school.

It's about using a relative's address to declare residency, and claiming to pay rent, even if the relative never received a dime and never expected to. That wasn't, after all, part of the deal, only part of the story told to investigators.

It's about making fake receipts. It's about a relative admitting to this, but imploring the FHSAA to "please don't make his baby sit out of the playoffs."

It's about living in the zones for Strawberry Crest and King, but lying and saying you live in Seffner.

Simple: It's about parents cheating.

This is where you start when looking for people to blame, trying to figure out how something like this could happen, so many kids, so many lies.

• • •

I have no issue with anyone transferring, with any parent trying to put his or her kid in a better situation, even if it means enrolling them in a D-rated school.

You could argue that wide receiver Javonte Sneed and linebacker Keionne Baines got scholarship offers that would have otherwise been unavailable to them. The state championship was just icing on the cake.

But there's a right way to do it.

Then there's way the Armwood parents did it.

And, yes, I know a whole lot of people have done it the wrong way for many years. What has happened at Armwood, according to coaches I talked to, happens at lots of other places.

In many ways, coaches are at the mercy of the parents. Every kid can't be checked. Every home can't be staked out.

Now, if it is discovered that any coaches directed these parents to cheat, showed them how, or even condoned it, they should be fined. Or if you want to send a serious message, then fired.

But taking away victories isn't going to stop this, because the rings still gleam and the score in last year's Class 6A state title game hasn't changed: Armwood 40, Miami Central 31.

For now, we have this:

In November, ABC Action News started Armwood on this path to embarrassment by revealing that offensive lineman Jack Lightsey wasn't really living at the apartment complex he said he was when he enrolled at Armwood.

The Lightseys tried to cover themselves quickly after the story broke. According to the report, there was a meeting Nov. 7 with Armwood officials, a Separation Agreement filed two days later by the parents presumably to explain the multiple residences, and a few days after that the address on Jack's driver's license changed from his Orlando home to the one in Tampa.

We knew right away the Hawks were doomed. We knew it in the playoffs and we knew it at state, and despite the brave faces the Hawks knew it, too.

But they broke through the finish line while the investigation was ongoing. And no matter what, the FHSAA can't tape that back together.

Still, it is almost heartbreaking to read an online conversation Verne Gavitt had with Shelly Lightsey, Jack's mother, when the news broke.

It was Gavitt's son Sean, a lineman, who probably lost the most playing time when Jack Lightsey arrived, but Verne Gavitt seemed more concerned with the team.

"Why would you take your kid from a private school, who has a great team and put him in a 'D' rated school?" he wrote. "No, Jack didn't do anything wrong he's a good young man, you the parents are the (ones) that have done something wrong. And because of your selfish actions Jack and the rest of the young men that have worked their (expletive) off may have their season taken away from them."

Gavitt died a few weeks later of a heart attack, but his words were prescient.

He was right.

Sure, the rings will always gleam and the score isn't going to change, but fair or not, how people think about it and how it is remembered will.

I wonder how the parents feel about that.

John C. Cotey can be reached at cotey@tampabay.com.

Parents of ineligible Armwood players played big role in scandal 05/15/12 [Last modified: Tuesday, May 15, 2012 1:42pm]
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