Land O' Lakes athletics found guilty of recruiting
Land O' Lakes High School must forfeit 44 athletics contests over two years, including 23 football games, and pay a fine after the The Florida High School Athletic Association ruled Wednesday that two sibling student-athletes were illegally recruited. The penalties could have been more harsh, but Land O' Lakes was given credit for self-reporting the violations. The story was first reported by the Pasco Tribune. The FHSAA, in a letter to Principal Ric Mellin from executive director Roger Dearing, determined the student-athletes involved violated Bylaw 126.96.36.199 for "Falsification of Information" to enroll at Land O' Lakes High. In all, six FHSAA bylaws and policies were involved, including two that specifically reference recruiting."The family was assisted by a coach and a football booster parent, who helped them to obtain and submit a false address to attend Land O' Lakes High School, though they actually lived outside the district," Dearing's FHSAA report says. "This violates Bylaw 6.3 and Policy 36 regarding recruitment of students." Because Land O' Lakes self-reported the violations on Feb. 10, the fines levied were reduced from a possible $80,000 ($2,500 per game) to $3,200 ($100 per game). "At this point I will only confirm that we have self-reported an incident within our athletics program, but we are not willing to discuss the situation and will wait until the FHSAA provides us with a response," Mellin said in an email Wednesday. Reached by phone Wednesday afternoon, Mellin said he still had not received the letter from the FHSAA, but he had seen it. He said the incident did not involve any current members of the coaching staff and that he would have no further content while the school considers a possible appeal. One of student-athletes also participated in five boys weightlifting meets last year. The other played junior varsity volleyball. According to the letter, the following has happened: The students have been withdrawn from Land O' Lakes. The booster parents have been removed from any involvement with the football program and athletic booster club. The coach, whose identity was not released, has been dismissed as a coach by Mellin and given a letter of reprimand and termination of supplemental coaching positions from the District Schools Board of Pasco County. Land O' Lakes has reviewed how the records were falsified and is making changes to enrollment requirements. Mellin has accepted full responsibility for the administration of these sports. Along with the $3,200 fine, the school has been placed on administrative probation for one year, was officially reprimanded with a letter of censure that becomes a permanent part of the school's membership record, and is required to notify its opponents of forfeited contests. The Gators will forfeit 23 football games, five weightlifting meets and 16 JV volleyball games. Land O' Lakes will remain eligible to participate in FHSAA tournaments.