December 15, 2010
In one of the most caustic penalties in high school sports history, a Florida private school, Mandarin Christian, was fined a massive $142,500 by the Florida High School Activities Association, a penalty so severe they may imperil the school's very participation in the FHSAA itself. The penalty stems from some 25 recruiting violations and also includes legal fees and a hefty $10,000 fine against the school's football coach, as well.
According to the Jacksonville Florida Times-Union, the fines were levied Tuesday, with the most severe restrictions coming in connection with 16 violations tied with illegal tuition assistance to six student-athletes. The school's football coach at the time of the violations, Denny Thompson, and athletic director Eleanor Perry were also cited in the FHSAA findings.
A seventh student-athlete was also cited in the FHSAA investigation and was ruled ineligible for participating in a 7-on-7 training camp before he was enrolled at the school.
The total fine was calculated on a basis of a $2,500 penalty per contest illegally entered per ineligible player. According to the Times-Union, one player alone participated in nine games, costing the school $22,500, while another athlete cost Mandarin Christian a total of 17,500.
Add to those ineligibility fines a $10,000 penalty for Thompson, who was cited for providing false information to the FHSAA, allowing illegal benefits, organizing a campus tour for the intention of recruiting student-athletes and allowing non-Mandarin Christian athletes to participate in school activities before they were enrolled at the school.
The now-former coach will only admit to fielding players before they were enrolled in the school, and argues that Mandarin Christian is being unfairly persecuted by the FHSAA.
"I cooperated with the FHSAA and was truthful," Thompson told the Times-Union. "I have no authority to allocate any school benefits to student-athletes. It's absolutely not true that I organized a trip and I never initiated contact with a student athlete at another school.
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"The sad thing is these kids came here for the right reasons. Lost in this whole story is the emotional toll this has taken on them."
The school now faces a decision on whether or not to remain a FHSAA member. If Mandarin Christian decides to pay the fine and retain its membership in the state's acknowledged athletics organization, it will still face almost unspeakably harsh penalties, with no state-level contests for any teams in the school's athletic department for five years and an additional three-year administrative probation period after that five-year ban concludes.
It's a harsh decision to face for any school, though it could be delayed if Mandarin Christian files an appeal within the next 10 business days. There's no early indication as to whether or not that will happen. Given the gravity of the situation, it may be 10 days before anyone knows what the next step of the Mandarin Christian saga is.