A week ago at the NCAA Track and Field Championships in New Orleans, University of South Florida star Jon Dennis defended his title in the 5,000-meter run.
Now, he looks to defend his past before the NCAA's administrative review panel.
As a freshman at Southern Illinois in January 1989, Dennis abruptly returned home to England when his parents, Catharine and Rod, both grew ill. He stopped running and cared for them for almost a full year. (His mother eventually died and his father needed triple-bypass surgery.)
According to NCAA rules, a student-athlete has five years to complete his eligibility. But a waiver can be granted if a student-athlete is "unable to attend a collegiate institution for reasons that are beyond the control of either the student-athlete or the institution."
"We certainly think the circumstances under which he was forced to withdraw from school fall within the parameters of the exception to the five-year calendar," USF athletic director Paul Griffin said.
But Dennis' initial appeal was rejected. The NCAA insists that in the case of fulfilling a caretaker role, the student-athlete must be the sole caretaker. One of Dennis' older sisters, Nicola, a university student at the time, also helped.
However, the NCAA suggested to USF officials that they appeal to the newly created review panel. USF compliance officer Pam LaPan is preparing a letter, which must be signed by Griffin, USF president Frank Borkowski and faculty athletic representative Stu Schneller, to argue that Dennis should be given another year of eligibility.
"All the indications I've gotten (from the NCAA) are positive at this point," LaPan said. "They've really worked with us."
If Dennis' appeal is again turned down, he still has another shot. LaPan said the NCAA is going to consider broadening waivers to the five-year clock in August.
"If Jon runs (cross country), we have a shot at the top five," coach Bob Braman said. "With John Bowden, Keith Batten, Jeff Ausloos, Jeff Cooper and Ed Fitzgerald (all of whom will be seniors) and our two jucos (transfers Malcolm Campbell and Jim Neuman), this really looks like it would be the year. But we need Jon to make it happen."
Dennis would like nothing more than to have another year. He's still embarrassed by his 83rd-place finish at the NCAA cross country championships last November. As a team, USF has gone to the nationals just once, in 1989.
"I've been there once as an individual and didn't run well, and in some ways I want to go back because of that," Dennis said. "But it's the team. If I come back, we have a really good shot to get to nationals."
And he would have a shot to be a three-time NCAA track champion. Only Suleiman Nyambui of the University of Texas-El Paso has won three straight 5,000-meter titles (1980-82).
"It's looking more hopeful at the moment," Dennis said. "I just have to sit and wait. But no matter what, I'll be in school."
Surprise, surprise: Junior right-handed pitcher Chad Crossley wasn't really expecting to be drafted, even though the Houston Astros called a few days before and asked him to drive to Kissimmee for a workout.
"They were wondering if I was healthy," he said.
Crossley, a former Armwood High star, pitched 2 innings this past season, allowing six runs. For his career, he pitched 28 innings, allowing 25 earned runs on 31 hits and 27 walks (he struck out 15) for a 7.95 ERA.
Still, the Astros saw the potential of a big, strong young man (6-foot-5, 200 pounds) and picked him in the 59th round. He signed last week, realizing he is a project.
"I have a control problem," said Crossley, whose plan to transfer to another school so he could see some playing time was rendered moot. "Sometimes I'd be in sync and sometimes I would have a hard time staying with my mechanics. It was really frustrating for me and the coaching staff. But I still have confidence in my ability. In time, hopefully I'll get to the point where I am consistent."
Odds and ends: Senior righty Mark Reed was named to the GTE Academic All-America first team. The former Armwood standout had a 3.66 grade-point average this past year. Junior first baseman Darren Stumberger, the Metro Conference player of the year, was named a second-team All-American by the American Baseball Coaches Association. He wasn't drafted.
Draft news: Two baseball recruits have eschewed scholarships to sign: Lefty Jeff Bawlson (Jefferson and Hillsborough Community College), a 19th-round pick of the California Angels; and righty Rocco Cafaro (Bloomingdale and Polk Community College), a 30th-round pick of Baltimore.
A third, righty Pat Ryan (Apopka High), who was selected in the sixth round by San Francisco, won't meet with the Giants again until next month. He's heading for Michigan to play in an amateur all-star tournament June 21-29. The championship game will be broadcast on ESPN. "It should be a lot of fun," he said.