One of the top high school football programs in Florida -- and the nation -- is facing the possible forfeiture of its entire 2011 season and thousands of dollars in fines after the Florida High School Athletic Association found that seven of its athletes had committed egregious violations to gain eligibility to play for the school during the 2010-11 school year.
According to the Lakeland Ledger's PolkPreps high school sports website, Lakeland (Fla.) High administrators conceded that all seven athletes whose eligibility were brought into question may have falsified addresses or failed to make a full and complete move into Lakeland's residential area before beginning to play for the Dreadnaughts. Additionally, the initial Florida High School Athletic Association report also found that an investigator found evidence that some athletes also received illegal benefits, including free rent, from a third party as a means to live in the Lakeland catchment area and gain eligibility to play for the school.
Five of the seven athletes cited in the FHSAA report play for the nationally ranked Dreadnaughts football team, which currently sits at No. 74 in the RivalsHigh 100 standings. Among those five, two played during the 2010 football season, participating in a total of 25 games between them, a total which would bring with it a fine of $62,500, according to FHSAA disciplinary standards.
Because the other three football players only joined during the offseason, the school would be fined for only two games for the illegal inclusion of all five players.
That sum also doesn't include the other two ineligible players, who competed in sports which were not released by PolkPreps. Their participation in those sports would have also accumulated a per-game fine as well.
While the massive sums could put a prohibitive dent in Lakeland's future athletic plans, the ancillary sanctions that come with them could be equally trying. Two schools recently sanctioned by the FHSAA -- Oviedo (Fla.) High for various wrestling indiscretions and Jacksonville (Fla.) Mandarin Christian for violations in a number of sports -- received postseason bans for three and five years respectively, a penalty which could be forthcoming for the Dreadnaughts as well.
"They may put them on probation or sanction them for lack of administrative control for a year or two, but as far as going back — I don't think they would do that," Polk County director of athletics Don Bridges told PolkPreps.com. "We're hoping for the best there and I hope they believe that we did everything we could do right."
Now, Lakeland finds itself in the unique position of getting flack from both state officials and the very players for whom it is under scrutiny. On Tuesday, The Ledger reported that a lawyer for the family of a new Lakeland student who is being ruled ineligible is placing the blame for his client's ineligibility squarely at the hands of the school itself.
"We've got three young men who were looking forward to their senior year ... and these boys' names have been sullied and it's become a living hell for them because of the allegations brought forth against them," James Domineck Jr., who is representing Lakeland senior Chandler Brunson's family, told PolkPreps.com. "It's very unfair.
"The School Board was contacted prior to the transfers, and the parents acted based upon the interactions they had with the School Board.
"Had this issue been addressed correctly from the beginning, these boys would be enjoying their senior years."
What Domineck hopes to achieve for Brunson and his fellow newly ineglible Dreadnaughts, Jadrian Clark and Jocobe Stafford, remains to be seen. At the very least, he can try to clear the name of the athletes and their families, something which seems a more likely result than Lakeland escaping the dire penalties that may befall it in the coming days and weeks.