Posted: 1:17 am Thursday, May 21st, 2009
By Jason Lieser
During the third inning of Trinity Christian’s 12-6 loss to Tampa-Cambridge, FHSAA executive director Roger Dearing came to the Tradition Field press box and fielded questions from a half dozen reporters representing newspapers from South Florida and the Gulf Coast. Obviously, the topic was the FHSAA’s decision to suspend nearly the entire Trinity Christian roster for Wednesday’s game.
Among other things, Dearing was not pleased that the Warriors obtained a legal injunction against the ruling, which allowed the suspended players on the field.
I don’t want to spend another six paragraphs rehashing all the background of the incident. It’s been thoroughly covered in our paper. If you want to read previous stories, click any of these links: initial fight, Tuesday morning’s news story, Wednesday morning’s news story. Thursday’s paper will have another news article, and an opinion column by Dave George, which I highly recommend reading if you are following this story.
This is not a complete transcript, but it is close. Dearing spoke for 12 minutes and I probably omitted less than one minute simply because it was irrelevant to this topic. The FHSAA later confirmed, through a spokesperson, that Brito Miami Private has not submitted any information regarding Friday’s incident.
Aside from that, the questions are paraphrased, but Dearing’s answers are verbatim with minor parenthetical notes inserted for clarity. Some of the sentences might seem to end abruptly or trail off, but this is exactly what was said.
Question: Can you explain how the FHSAA came to the decision to suspend almost the entire Trinity Christian roster?
Roger Dearing: “There was a dugout-emptying situation. Everybody left their position; all the kids left the dugout. That’s unsportsmanlike conduct. Five of those kids also made physical contact with ballplayers from the other team. That’s gross unsportsmanlike conduct. It was reported to us the following day by the three umpires at the event. All of them wrote it up the same way: everybody left the dugout; everybody left their position.
“If the center fielder just stood out there and said, ‘Well I’ll wait ’til this is over,’ he would have been fine, but every child on that team left their position, and the rest in the dugout left the dugout.
“Once we got the write-up from the three umpires… what happened was the game was being played — they actually leased a public school field down in Miami … The public school had the baseball coach there as their field administrator, so he’s neutral, neither school. He witnessed the whole thing and when we called him, he corroborated all three umpires’ stories: both dugouts emptied, all fielders left their position, all infielders and outfielders left their position.
“So we initially suspended the five that made contact, the gross conduct. They get two weeks and four games. Of course the season was over, so what would happen is it would roll into the next year baseball. It doesn’t carry over into any other sport like football or anything. It goes to the next season. If they’re seniors, they’re just gone. The other 11 ballplayers were given one week and two games, which means they’re ineligible for this game and if there happens to be another one after this, there would be another one for that as well. That’s basically the situation right there.”
Question: What evidence did you have? Was there video?
RD: “Three umpire reports and one phone call to verify it.”
Question: So there was no video?
RD: “No, but just like the teachers in the classroom supervise the kids, the umpires on the field supervise the players and all three umpires had the same.”
Question: What was your reaction to Trinity Christian obtaining a legal injunction against your ruling?
RD: “Not printable. Basically this: the judge made a ruling based on what he had. In other words, he only had the file for the injunction. We were told about it about 40 minutes before they took it to the judge. We’ve got our response filed now, but the judge didn’t even look at our response before he made his decision. Now he was in court all day, he was busy, and I’m sure a high school baseball game may not be the toughest thing a judge is ruling on today. So the injunction’s happened and we’ll deal with it and we’ll see what happens.”
Question: Will you press forward in legal action against Trinity Christian?
RD: “You bet. We’re going to make sure that our teams follow good sportsmanship conduct and if they violate that conduct, we will throw the book on what the consequences are going to be.”
Question: What will you say to Cambridge if they lose? They shouldn’t even have had to play this team. Isn’t this unfair to them?
RD: “Can you write that up in a statement for me to give to the judge? I mean we’re on the same page.”
Question: Well, what can you say? If Cambridge loses, can you reverse the outcome and give them the win?
RD: “It’s against our rules. Our standard rules, FHS rules, and our national federation rules and our rules say if they play them and lose and later it’s determined that the bracket has to be vacated because of forfeiture, the bracket’s vacated. There is no winner. That’s the written rules.
“So it’s just unfortunate that we have a school, Trinity, which has decided instead of using our rules and our bylaws, they went to court to get an injunction, even though their children were in violation of good sportsmanship conduct. I think the school has to do some soul-searching — the principal, the athletic director, the baseball coach — what are we trying to teach kids? I don’t think this is it.”
Question: Did you ever at any point consider any punishment other than a complete team ban?
RD: “No, no, no. Here’s the rule: if you have unsportsmanlike conduct, it’s a minimum one week and two contests. If it’s gross unsportsmanlike conduct, it’s a minimum of two weeks and four games. It’s prescribed what their violation is. That was a violation all along from what happened. The determination was we got the five kids that made contact and we know their names and who they are, and we have the other 11 kids.
“Now let me say this, there was one appeal for the catcher because apparently this started when somebody was coming home to score and ran into the catcher and we’re told the catcher was knocked out, so don’t think he left his position. So they appealed the catcher eligible to play and we declared the catcher eligible to play. The catcher is the only player on this team that’s eligible to be playing today.”
Question: How similar is this situation to the Vero Beach girls lacrosse issue and what sort of precedent does it set?
RD: “We’re going to have to look at this. We’ve talked to our attorney and we’re going to set some pretty strong laws and bylaws about injunctions and so forth. Now if you get an injunction and you wind up winning, you win, but if you get an injunction and wind up losing, there’s going to be severe consequences in the future and we’ll put that in our bylaws. They are voluntarily members of FHSAA and they will play by FHSAA rules. To try and go around it in court is known as an act of derision in our bylaws, so they will suffer the consequences if they don’t prevail.”
Question: Do you differentiate this situation from recent cases involving the Vero Beach girls lacrosse and Nature Coast football programs?
RD: “This one’s very similar to Nature Coast because it was a bench-emptying brawl that was unsportsmanlike conduct.
“The situation with the Vero Beach girls was a situation where their coach, not the children, knowingly violated the rules, played too many games out of state, which made them ineligible for the state competition. He tried to get by with some rules. It’s a long story. There’s a whole set of rules on what qualifies you for the state series. There was two of those he didn’t meet and he knows that. Eighteen games was it, but he tried to use the combination of the varsity and the junior varsity to get his percentage. There is no state series for junior varsity. The judge, who is not in athletics, doesn’t understand that. He just saw, well, there was 35 games, they played 21 of them in state, so that ought to be OK.
“It’s similar to Nature Coast. The kids emptied the bench, there was physical contact made. Nature Coast went for the injunction, the court heard it and they denied the injunction.
“What happens is if (Trinity Christian’s suspensions are later upheld), they will get a fine and I will tell you right now, the fine they’re looking at is, for playing an ineligible player — right now 15 of those are ineligible — it’s $2500 a child per game. So you do the math. Plus court costs, plus the fine, plus sanctions.”
Question: If you are against teams challenging your rules in court, where can they challenge them?
RD: “Our bylaws have a process to appeal the decisions that are made and it says very clearly in our bylaws that you will go through our bylaw set of regulations to appeal. So they would have to go to a sectional appeal to overturn that. But when you have three umpires who were eye witnesses and you have a school administrator whose neutral to the event who was an eye witness… In addition, here’s what happened, we had to get this team, which we heard about Monday and we ruled yesterday.
“The other team that was involved didn’t move forward, so we’re still gathering evidence on them. The evidence we gather on them will be the supporting documents. They were half of the problem. They emptied the bench too. So we’ll have the whole story, but within our rules there’s a way for due process and to appeal the decisions that are made.”
Question: So nothing supersedes your rulings? To which governing body are you accountable?
RD: “Well, court supersedes it.”
Question: But you’re against schools going to court?
RD: “That’s right, because it’s in our bylaws. They have to play by the rules. Here’s the situation, did the judge who made the ruling, was he at the game? Did he see what happened? Did he talk to the umpires? Did he see the written documents? Did he talk to the administrator? Does he know the bylaws and he does even know the rules of baseball? I don’t know the answers to those, but all the people sitting on our appeals committee do.”
Question: Have you been asked to change your appeals process?
RD: “Nobody’s requested that, but we are sitting down with our attorney to look at what we (inaudible). We’re looking to put an appeal committee together, we have four sections, we’re looking to put an appeal committee together that someone from each of the four sections would come to Gainesville, we’d also have an attorney come to Gainesville, but the appealing team would have to pay all costs. I mean it’s not easy pulling these people together. They’re school board members and school superintendents and attorneys — you know what I mean? It’s kind of tough to pull those people together, and even then, when they go to the sectional appeal, then they have the right to appeal to the board. Each of them gives them two weeks of paperwork time to do it. Once a month is when our sectionals appeal committee meets right now.”
Question: Was today’s injunction obtained in St. Lucie County?
RD: “I’m going to say it was from St. Lucie County, yes sir.”
Question: How many legal staffers do you have or do you have attorneys on retainer?
RD: “One on retainer.”
Question: So he must stay pretty busy?
RD: “If you think about it, we’ve had three (injunctions) this year. That’s not bad out of a year. He’s been FHSAA’s attorney for 32 or 35 years. Here’s the other thing, when someone files an injunction we move forward and we win. We haven’t lost one yet, which is a good note to make. They pay all of our attorneys fees. They will pay us back.”
Question: Is there a printable reaction you can give us for today’s action by Trinity Christian? Are you upset?
RD: “I don’t think it’s upset. Here’s the thing, I’m a 39-year educator in the state of Florida. I’ve been a teacher, I’ve been a coach, I’ve been an athletic director, I’ve been a principal… I think this sets a very bad precedent when a principal, athletic director and coach sees what happened in that game and know what the rules of unsportsmanlike conduct are, and no matter what, we want our kids to play ball. That sends a wrong message to all kids, athletes and academics. It’s the wrong message.”