Posted: 7:58 pm Monday, November 2nd, 2009

Self-reported violation could jeopardize Pahokee’s playoff chances 

By Jason Lieser

Pahokee High School self reported a football eligibility violation to the Florida High School Athletic Association and it could result in a forfeiture of the Blue Devils’ Sept. 25 win over Cardinal Newman.

An FHSAA source said there will be a ruling on the issue tomorrow. If the FHSAA forces Pahokee to forfeit that win, a district game, it would drop the Blue Devils from 5-0 to 4-1 in District 7-2B.

Pahokee Athletic Director Tom Mejia said the school allowed an academically ineligible player to participate in the Sept. 25 game. Student-athletes must maintain at least a 2.0 grade point average. A grade change bumped the player in question’s average from 1.8 to 2.1, but school administrators later discovered the change was done incorrectly, Mejia said.

“After we launched the inquiry, we saw some inconsistencies,” Mejia said. “Based on our interpretation of the rule book, we realized we made a mistake.”

Mejia said he met with Principal Ariel Alejo and Assistant Principal Michael Aronson the week following the Cardinal Newman game and they discovered the incorrect grade. The school sent a letter to the FHSAA and Cardinal Newman disclosing the violation.

The player, a junior, is no longer on the team and did not dress for any other games, Mejia said. Mejia did not know if the teacher has been disciplined. Alejo and coach Blaze Thompson did not return messages seeking comment.

The FHSAA has a policy stating any team that forfeits a game is consequently eliminated from the post-season, but a source said that will not apply to Pahokee in this case because the school fulfilled its contract with Cardinal Newman by participating in the game.

If that game is changed to a loss, Pahokee can still win its district by beating Fort Lauderdale-University on Friday. If the Blue Devils lose that game and finish 4-2, they would be eliminated from the playoffs if North Broward Prep wins this week. If Pahokee and North Broward Prep both lose, the Blue Devils earn the wildcard playoff spot.

Pahokee beat University 45-6 in the second round of last year’s playoffs and 62-0 to open the 2007 post-season.

“I wish I would have known the full information and I would have avoided this,” said Mejia, who is in his second year as athletic director. “It’s unfortunate because of my negligence that this happened and it affects the view of our school. We don’t do grade changes for athletes. That’s not what happened here. This could have happened to any other non-athletic kid. It’s a big deal, though, because the student is an athlete.”

Mejia said the school did not hesitate to self-report.

“I don’t want to hide anything from anybody,” he said. “As soon as I found out the student was ineligible, I had a meeting with Mr. Aronson and Mr. Alejo and the appropriate thing to do was inform everybody of the situation. We have a prestigious program and we have to keep it like that. We don’t have any reason to hide anything from anybody.”

Lakeland-Kathleen had a similar violation in which an ineligible player resulted in the forfeiture of six games. Those losses eliminated the school, which had been 8-0, from playoff contention.