One of the most successful high school football programs in Florida, Seffner (Fla.) Armwood High, has had all of its accomplishments from the past two seasons wiped out following an extensive investigation into the eligibility of its athletes.
As first reported by the Tampa Tribune, Armwood has been stripped of its 2011 Class 6A state championship and its 2010 6A runners-up trophy for the use of ineligible players on both of those teams. Armwood was also placed on three years of administrative probation and issued a Florida High School Athletic Association reprimand, which could lead to even more significant sanctions should any of the school's athletic programs run afoul of state guidelines again.
In all, the violations will wipe out 26 victories and a state title for a program which finished the 2011 season ranked No. 3 in the RivalsHigh 100, with some arguing that the Hawks deserved the mythical national title.
In addition to the lost titles, the Armwood program was also fined $12,743 for its use of five ineligible players who had falsified residence documents across the two seasons. The sanctions conclude an investigation which actually began at Armwood's own behest, when the school reached out to FHSAA authorities and inquired about the eligibility of offensive lineman Jack Lightsey on the eve of the 2011 playoffs. According to FHSAA Associate Executive Director Denarvise Thornton, no evidence was overturned that pointed to institutional involvement in the falsification of documents or any other role in the scandal, which helped minimize the financial hit taken against the school.
While $12,000 would be a hefty tax for any scholastic athletic department to pay regardless of location, it's particularly taxing in Florida, where school districts have been so strapped that some have considered eliminating school sports altogether. Yet Armwood may have a clause that minimizes the financial damage it will face for its indiscretions across the prior two seasons, as explained by the Tribune:
FHSAA Executive Director Roger Dearing said the fines are typically paid from ticket sales from the school's athletic department. However, in Hillsborough County, the parents or guardians of all athletes sign a form specifically stating "any fines or penalties assessed against the school as a result of the actions of any student and/or parent will be the responsibility of the student and/or parent."
School district spokesperson Stephen Hegarty said no tax dollars would be used to pay the fines and the district "expects the parents to pay the fine."
Given that the violations involved five players, that's an average fee of more than $2,500 per player, a steep fine for any parent to face.
A lawyer who represents four of the five players has publicly stated that his clients feel they were never heard in the case, and even went so far as to claim that the school was throwing his clients under the proverbial bus.
"The parents have constantly maintained they wanted to be heard and participate in the process but they weren't," Tampa attorney Peter Hobson told the Tribune. "We are disappointed the principal of the school and the school board didn't make a careful review of the report that was sent (to the FHSAA). There was more information that needed to be considered. We wish the school -- and the principal especially -- wasn't what appears to be so adamant about throwing them under the bus."
It remains to be seen if Armwood attempts to appeal the judgment against it. In the meantime, the Hawks are left to lick the wounds of one of the more surprising turn of events in recent years of Florida's top football classification.