GAINESVILLE — Superior Collegiate did not experience the growing pains many first-year high school football programs go through.
Last season, the Legion emerged as a force, beating well-established schools, including some with significantly higher student enrollments.
That had a lot do with the talent on the roster. Superior Collegiate had players other schools could only dream about. More big-time prospects enrolled this spring, irking area coaches who alleged that the acquired talent came through illegitimate means.
Everything was in place for the Legion to eventually compete for the playoffs, even a state title. All Superior Collegiate and its burgeoning program had to do was become a full-time member of the Florida High School Athletic Association.
That will not happen anytime soon.
The FHSAA voted Tuesday to deny that status to the private school based in Clearwater.
The near unanimous vote by the board of directors means the Legion is no longer a member of the state association that governs high schools sports.
FHSAA public relations specialist Kyle Niblett said Superior Collegiate was denied membership for failing to meet requirements during a provisional period. The school can still schedule games against FHSAA member schools, but will not be eligible to participate in a district or compete for a playoff spot in any sport.
Superior Collegiate can later apply to become a full member but will have to do so as if it were a first-year school.
"They are not a member. They are not an independent. They are considered a non-member," Niblett said of Superior Collegiate. "So in that sense they can operate like an independent."
Clearwater Central Catholic athletic director John Gerdes, who is on the board of directors, abstained from the vote.
No one from Superior Collegiate showed up for the meeting. The school's athletic director, Alex Christopoulos, said administrators were absent was because the headmaster went to the emergency room Tuesday morning.
"We didn't have to go, but we wanted our time," Christopoulos said. "We tried to get in touch with the FHSAA Tuesday morning. We've had some issues that we wanted to address and clear up any misconceptions people might have with our school and our sports programs."
Superior Collegiate was in its second year of provisional membership. Niblett said one of the requirements before becoming a full member is for a school to demonstrate a working knowledge of FHSAA regulations.
There were several concerns the FHSAA had with Superior Collegiate during the past school year, including a suspension in October for failing to pay membership dues and fees in a timely manner. The school's boys basketball program also was placed on probation for the year.
Christopoulos said the late payments were a result of going through a corporate office for billing matters, which can take up to a month to complete. The membership dues are squared away, and Christopoulos said the school will have a full-time accountant on campus this coming school year.
The basketball team's probation stemmed from a one-time incident, Christopoulos said.
FHSAA membership specialist J.A. Colasanti said another requirement for provisional schools is to submit to an onsite visit. When FHSAA staff members went to Superior Collegiate for the first of their three visits, only a handful of students were there.
"The dates they submitted for a visit were all on Fridays," Colasanti said. "We showed up. They were there, but there not a lot of students. (Superior Collegiate) said it was an elective day. Unfortunately, it wasn't really the best light to portray their school in."
Christopoulos said the school has students take their electives all on Friday. Some electives, such as physical education, are conducted off campus.
Superior Collegiate has a shared usage agreement with Plato Academy's Clearwater campus. Christopoulos said the school is accredited and is particularly strong in mathematics.
Currently, Superior Collegiate has teams in football, boys and girls basketball and boys soccer. Football has become the cornerstone of its athletic program.
In its debut season last year, Superior Collegiate went 7-4, including a win over playoff-bound Cambridge Christian. The Legion put together an impressive roster that included several major Division I-A prospects, including running back Keyvone Lee, a junior who has already committed to Florida.
The number of big-time recruits has increased this offseason. Calvary Christian offensive lineman Ethan White, another Florida commit, transferred in.
That collection of talent irritated public school coaches, particularly in Pinellas County. Last season, Dixie Hollins coach Dale Caparaso said he canceled a game against Superior Collegiate because of alleged recruiting. Caparaso said he had written statements from three parents who said a coach from Superior Collegiate was trying to recruit their sons. The statements were submitted to the FHSAA as part of a formal complaint.
"I will never schedule another game against Superior Collegiate, and if any of their coaches move on to another school I will not schedule them either," Caparaso said. "It just seems like no one over there is held accountable for their actions."
The five area teams that played Superior Collegiate last year — Admiral Farragut, Cambridge Christian, Northside Christian, Pasco and Seffner Christian — have decided not play the school this season.
Superior Collegiate does not have a local team on its upcoming regular-season schedule.
"(Superior Collegiate coach) BJ Hall begged me to play another game this year," Lancers coach Bob Dare said. "It's a tough thing for me to do because I always have trouble scheduling games. But there's no way. I can't compete against what they have, especially at the small-school level.
"They have major guys. They could have competed for a state title, but I guess that won't happen now."