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Mitchell High ‘not the aggressor’ in postgame melee, Pasco school district says

No police report was filed, and no criminal complaints have been received, authorities say
Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz's team was involved in a postgame melee Friday night at Wekiva High. The Mustangs won, 24-18, to advance to the Class 7A region finals.
Mitchell coach Andy Schmitz's team was involved in a postgame melee Friday night at Wekiva High. The Mustangs won, 24-18, to advance to the Class 7A region finals. [ SCOTT PURKS | Special to the Times ]
Published Dec. 1, 2020|Updated Dec. 1, 2020

The Mitchell football team’s pursuit of a state championship isn’t expected to be impeded by an ugly incident immediately following its 24-18 victory Friday night at Wekiva High.

Video footage of a postgame physical altercation involving the teams has been posted on various social media platforms. At least one clip shows a couple of helmets being hurled toward a Mitchell player on the ground. Additionally, some Wekiva parents and players have accused Mustangs players of using racial slurs during the game, according to the Orlando Sentinel.

Mustangs coach Andy Schmitz vehemently denied those claims Tuesday.

“There was one claim that their coaches told the officials at halftime that our kids were using racial slurs and that the officials came and warned me,” Schmitz said. “It just never happened. The officials never came and talked to me and brought up anything about that.”

The Orlando Sentinel reported the Orange County Sheriff’s Office has requested video footage of the incident. But a sheriff’s office spokesperson said Tuesday no reports were taken of the incident, and no complaints of a criminal nature have been received.

Monica Ilse, Pasco County’s assistant superintendent for high schools, said Tuesday no complaint alleging the use of racial slurs has arrived at Mitchell High or the school district.

“We weren’t the aggressor,” Pasco school district spokesman Steve Hegarty said.

Tensions percolated before kickoff, when Mitchell players — in accordance with a team custom — ran onto the field with a Blue Lives Matter flag, followed by many Wekiva players kneeling during the national anthem, according to the Sentinel story.

“We’ve been running out with that flag for several years,” Schmitz said.

“It goes back to a team that we had a couple of years ago that had several parents that were police officers. So they started running out with it, and then (the tradition) has just kind of gotten passed down. I don’t understand how that’s part of the story, but whatever.”

Still, Schmitz said the game itself was cleanly played, at least until the final couple of plays, when he ordered his quarterback to take a knee after getting the snap to burn out the clock.

“And the first time we take a knee, one of their defensive linemen comes across and just annihilates one of my offensive linemen,” Schmitz said.

Following the second snap, which ended the game, Mitchell’s offensive players on the field began running toward their own sideline to celebrate. Schmitz said the game video shows one Mustangs players reaching out to shake the hand of a Wekiva player, only to have the player turn and walk away.

“And then all the sudden, one of their kids from the sideline, didn’t have a jersey on, comes sprinting across the field and just attacks one of our kids,” Schmitz said.

“About three more of their kids followed, and they were all from the other sideline. And then all of the sudden, the kids that were on the field, their defense, followed them over there. It just turned into mass hysteria. We had kids getting helmets thrown at them.”

No Mustangs player was seriously hurt, Schmitz said. Because the only open exit from the stadium was near the hosts’ locker room, the team had to wait until tempers cooled and police officers on the scene restored order before leaving.

“The Orange County Sheriff’s Office had several deputies working in an off-duty capacity at this event,” deputy sheriff Christian A. Marrero said in an e-mail to the Tampa Bay Times. “When the fight broke out, additional deputies were requested to break up the fight and safely evacuate the field and school.”

Orange County Public Schools spokesman Michael Ollendorff confirmed Tuesday the district is looking into the incident, but cannot comment regarding student discipline due to student privacy laws.

Meantime, the Mustangs (11-0) are preparing for their next playoff game, Friday night at Orlando Edgewater.

Which is 8½ miles from Wekiva’s campus.

“It was the craziest thing I’ve seen in high school athletics,” Schmitz said. “It was mass hysteria there for a few minutes that obviously was out of control, but almost got even more out of control. It was a scary situation.”

Times staff writer Jeffrey S. Solochek contributed to this report.