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County cries foul over teams' fancy jerseys

(ran SS edition of METRO & STATE)

The baseball teams at Clearwater and Dunedin high schools have lost their shirts.

Their new jerseys were declared illegal because the letters and numbers were sewn on. All Pinellas County uniforms must have silk-screened letters and numbers, according to the centralized athletics rules.

The shirts were confiscated recently by Pinellas County athletic director Robert Hosack.

The action is part of the continuing effort to ensure parity among the district's 16 athletics programs, Hosack said. "It is one of the rules and regulations I am required to police and enforce."

The rules have been in effect since athletics programs were centralized in the early 1980s. Once in a while, a team bends the jersey rule, Hosack said.

"Occasionally, I have to take some uniforms away," he said. "I'm not very popular then. But if we're asking all 16 athletic programs to abide by the rules and one doesn't, then we have to deal with that."

Dunedin's baseball boosters spent about $1,500 for 30 red jerseys. The team also has legal white jerseys provided by the district.

Clearwater's boosters took the 25 new shirts the district provided and spent about $20 each for the stitching. Clearwater's group also bought five additional jerseys.

Both teams have gone back to their old shirts.

Clearwater has only one set of shirts, and they are 7 years old, coach Roger Tremblay said. He said he isn't sure if the stitched letters can be removed to salvage the new shirts or if his team will have to keep wearing the old ones.

Clearwater knew that the rules called for silk-screening, Tremblay said, but his boosters thought they would only have to pay a fine if they were caught with stitching.

"We just thought they would look nicer" stitched, Tremblay said.

Someone reported Clearwater's violation to Hosack.

Dunedin's old red shirts also had sewn-on letters, coach Greg Nichols said, a holdover from the days before centralized athletics. Though Hosack said those shirts also should have been replaced years ago, Dunedin had continued to use them and to replace them as they wore out.

Assistant principal Kyle Johnson, who oversees Dunedin athletics programs, saw that the latest shipment of shirts was illegal when the box arrived, Nichols said. Johnson called Hosack.

The jerseys, Hosack said, "shouldn't have been purchased in the first place because the school knew the rules."

Becky Stone, the president of Dunedin's baseball boosters, said she did not know about the silk-screen rule.

She can understand Hosack's position, she said, but she is sorry that the booster club spent $1,500 that parents worked hard to raise on shirts that the team won't be allowed to wear.

"We have evidently not abided by the rules, and we have to pay," she said.

The school system provides equal uniforms and equipment for every sports team in the county. That's what centralized athletics is all about, Superintendent Howard Hinesley said.

The district went to a central athletics system after a student was hurt because of inferior equipment and sued the district.

Boosters don't need to raise money for basics, Hinesley said. Boosters may raise money for student awards, tournaments and for such things as summer practice and competition.

"I guess you could argue that some of this sounds petty," Hinesley said. But some schools couldn't raise $600 for lettering as Clearwater did.

The athletics operations are different from other school programs, such as bands. The amount of money a band can raise and spend, for example, is not limited by the district because there is no central support by the district.

Band boosters killed an attempt to centralize music several years ago because they said they feared equalization rules.

This dispute doesn't have anything to do with the quality of play on the field, Hosack said.

He has trouble distinguishing between a silk-screened number and a sewn-on number from a distance, he said.

"Everyone thinks (the sewn-on lettering) is more professional," he said. "I've seen teams win championships with their letters screened and beat teams with their letters sewn on."