Four East Lake freshman volleyball players are being held out of the lineup amid allegations of recruiting.
The four players - Brianna Nichols, Jess Steidl, Brooke Burkett and Casey Moore - were informed of the decision before the Eagles' match with Countryside on Tuesday night. Of the four players, Moore is a starter and Steidl and Burkett are members of the Eagles' varsity. Nichols is a JV player.
"There was an inquiry about some student-athletes that played in the Pinellas Heat volleyball program, that the head coach of East Lake high school is the director of," Pinellas County athletic director Nick Grasso said. "These players have come into their school and there were some questions as to whether or not they were recruited."
Said East Lake principal Bob Poth: "Mr. Grasso came out and investigated and did an inquiry as to what was provided to him. We got all the information about all the girls and where they had played to him. He looked it over and gave us a recommendation that we sit the girls out. We then called the executive director of the FHSAA, Roger Dearing. Mr. Grasso and I, on a conference call, went through the scenario with him. (Dearing) recommended to me we sit the girls until we file a motion of eligibility so we didn't end up forfeiting our wins or putting us in a situation where we would have to pay a fine for recruiting."
The issue stems from coach Terry Small's connection with the Pinellas Heat club volleyball team, for which he is a director along with his wife, Barb, who is an assistant coach for East Lake. All four players are listed on the Pinellas Heat Web site as being members of the club team.
Also, all four are zoned outside of East Lake's district.
"My concern is that any school that a kid is not zoned for and their coach is involved in their program outside of high school, it automatically deems them ineligible," Small said. "I didn't coach these kids (at Pinellas Heat) ... Any kind of affiliation with an incoming player that are out of zone, that got into any kind of a program means those kids are going to be ineligible until they go through an appeal process. That's what they're saying to me."
Jack Moore, the father of Casey Moore, one of the affected players, said that in no way did Small recruit his daughter to play for East Lake.
"Number one, we're extremely surprised at the allegations," Moore said. "Number two, we're surprised at how much harm can be done to these young ladies. I'd like the FHSAA, the Pinellas County school district and the school's administration to review these allegations immediately.
"My daughter's at East Lake because of its academic reputation and its engineering program, period. This is a big disruption to her life. Our only hope is that this situation is resolved as soon as possible so she can get on with her volleyball career."
Small said East Lake has started the appeals process to allow the four athletes to continue playing with the Eagles this season. A hearing into the matter has been scheduled for Oct. 8.
But for Moore, that's not soon enough.
"My concern is that's that too late," he said. "I'd like it immediately. I'd like it done now so they can get back to being students."
"I believe our coaches are honest," Poth added. "I don't think they've done anything wrong.
"Still, we want to make sure that if there is an allegation, we have it investigated and cleared."