Land O’ Lakes football could return to action after program suspension

Earlier this week, the program was shut down indefinitely following a locker-room altercation.
For now, all football practices and games at Land O'Lakes High have been canceled while the Pasco County school district looks into a recent locker-room altercation.
For now, all football practices and games at Land O'Lakes High have been canceled while the Pasco County school district looks into a recent locker-room altercation. [ CHRIS URSO | Times (2018) ]
Published Aug. 23|Updated Aug. 24

UPDATE: The Land O’ Lakes High football team will play its regular-season opener Friday at River Ridge.

DEVELOPING: The Land O’ Lakes High football program could resume games and practices this week after a school-district investigation into a recent locker-room altercation revealed no hazing.

School officials initially chose to halt all practices and games while the investigation continued. A school-district spokesperson said Tuesday that two junior varsity players had been involved in a physical altercation in the locker room Monday while other players held up their phones to record the action and egg it on.

But in a news release issued Wednesday afternoon, school district public information officer Corey Dierdorff said initial statements the district received about the incident indicated hazing may have been involved, prompting the suspension.

After initial investigating, no hazing appears to have occurred, he said.

“Our investigation is ongoing, and we are diligently working toward a resolution involving discipline surrounding violations of our student code of conduct,” Dierdorff said. “We are also taking proactive steps to resume football operations at Land O’ Lakes High School safely and responsibly in time for the varsity game on Friday.”

The Gators are set to play at River Ridge in Friday’s regular-season opener. Thursday night’s junior varsity game between the same schools at Land O’ Lakes won’t be played at that time, but could be rescheduled.

The initial suspension of the program, over what was initially reported as a locker-room fight with many onlookers, left many area veteran coaches flabbergasted. Among them: 75-year-old King High baseball coach Jim Macaluso, entering his 49th season as coach at his alma mater.

“Never heard of something like that,” Macaluso said. “Definitely if it’s just two players fighting with 10 other players yelling and screaming around them, I don’t agree with that. I don’t see that.

“I’m not saying there shouldn’t be a penalty; definitely there should be a penalty if they think it got out of hand. But again, if it were players fighting in the locker room, the coaches handle that with some wind sprints or cleaning up the locker room duty for a week. You handle it within your team and you go on. You don’t start suspending games over that.”

Larry Blustein, a highly respected south Florida-based prep football reporter and college football recruiting analyst, suggested the school district would’ve set itself up for lawsuits from parents had the suspension lingered without further details.

“You’re hurting many schools on (Land O’Lakes’) schedule,” said Blustein, entering his 53rd season covering Florida prep football.

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“You’re hurting the students, you’re hurting the senior kids who need the film to get recruited. It seems like just chopping off your head for a mosquito bite on your nose. ... If you know who the people involved are, then you take the action. It makes no sense.”

Former Robinson High football coach Mike DePue, now a volunteer assistant at Gulf, called the incident symptomatic of a voyeuristic society in which most skirmishes and squabbles are chronicled and either shared among a circle of peers or presented on a social-media platform.

“That is the debacle of the social-media age,” said DePue, who has coached various prep sports for 45 years. “Social media has turned into a tornado of information, and people get just dragged into it now.”

Dierdorff’s release offered no further specifics on the incident. The Pasco County Sheriff’s Office is not investigating the matter, a department spokesperson said.

Monica Ilse, the district’s assistant superintendent of high schools, didn’t respond to an email from the Tampa Bay Times.

The Land O’ Lakes incident comes in the immediate wake of the suspension of the football program at Viera High after video surfaced of some Viera players allegedly hazing some underclassmen. The head coach was fired (though he remains a teacher) and the Brevard County Sheriff’s Office is investigating.