Posted: 9:25 am Thursday, September 9th, 2010

Dwyer AD: We will appeal Nick O’Leary’s suspension, but we will play 

By Matt Porter

UPDATED (5:24 p.m.)

A day after Dwyer Head Coach Jack Daniels said his team would forfeit its next two games in protest of star Nick O’Leary’s two-week suspension, Dwyer Athletic Director Tom Pagley put the brakes on that idea.

Pagley, who met with Daniels Thursday morning, said he understood the coach’s frustration, but Dwyer forfeiting the games would not be fair to its next two opponents, Palm Beach Gardens and Pahokee, as well as Dwyer players and fans.

“He was thinking out loud,” said Pagley of Daniels. “But it really wasn’t his to say.”

Pagley said Dwyer will appeal the FHSAA for a reduction of the suspension to one game. O’Leary will not be allowed to play while the appeal is under consideration. Pagley expected to hear back from the FHSAA next week.

(See the video footage of the incident at the end of this blog entry.)

O’Leary will be allowed to practice and travel with the team. He is allowed to be on the sidelines, as long as he is not in the same color uniform.

O’Leary, a senior and one of the nation’s top recruits at tight end, was suspended two games Thursday morning by the FHSAA for making an obscene gesture on the field after Dwyer’s controversial 26-22 loss to Cleveland-Glenville in the Kirk Herbstreit National Kickoff Classic at Ohio Stadium in Columbus, Ohio.

The season-opening game, televised by ESPN, received national attention because of two disputed calls in the final moments that apparently cost the Panthers a winning touchdown.

In a video clip replayed on ESPN and on the internet, O’Leary was caught on camera making the obscene gesture in response to taunting from several Glenville players.

Several videos were sent to the FHSAA for review of the incident, including the ESPN footage, according to FHSAA documents obtained by The Post.

Herbstreit, the ESPN college football analyst, reached Pagley by phone after Dwyer returned home from Columbus. Pagley said Herbstreit called the FHSAA, asking to have O’Leary’s suspension reduced. The website Sports By Brooks first reported Herbstreit’s call.

“But the FHSAA has laid down a two-week suspension because they have to,” said Pagley. “[Nick] broke the bylaws. The only problem we have is that we think it should be one game instead of two. There are kids who get in fights who get one week.”

“By no means am I making excuses for Nick, because he knows he was wrong.”

Dwyer’s next two games, Saturday against Palm Beach Gardens and Friday, Sept. 17 against Pahokee, are non-district games. However, forfeiting games would have cost Dwyer its postseason eligibility, according to FHSAA rules.

Dwyer could have petitioned the FHSAA for a waiver against the rule because of unusual circumstances. If Dwyer were to appeal, depending on which committee or board of the FHSAA hears the appeal, the process could take up to one month, FHSAA spokesman Seth Polansky said.

O’Leary was disciplined by the team and given an in-school suspension. In letters to the FHSAA, Pagley and Dwyer Principal Dr. Joseph Lee said O’Leary regrets his actions and was disciplined appropriately.

Pagley wrote:
“As an eyewitness to the event, I can tell you that [O'Leary] exhibited restraint beyond his years. What was not captured on the video was the aggressive taunting by a few of the Glenville players during the period just after the final horn. He reacted to this provocation in the heat of the moment in that manner because he knew that physically engaging those players and the student support personnel would be totally unacceptable. The notoriety of [the] gesture on television and the internet is unfortunate.

Conferencing with the student-athlete, I have discovered that he deeply regrets his course of action at that moment and understands that it is not acceptable from, indicative of, a representative of Dwyer, the Palm Beach County School District of the State of Florida.

He also understands that, at times, infringements incur penalties. Coach Jack Daniels has already handed down appropriate punitive measures toward the student-athlete and has counseled him and his teammates regarding this matter. As a group, we are attempting to put the negatives of the “Ohio Experience” behind us, as there are so many positives to recollect.”

In a letter to Dwyer’s Lee, Dr. Peggy Jones, the FSHAA’s assistant executive director for athletic services, wrote that O’Leary’s actions warranted a two-game suspension.

“I am sure he regrets his action and this is unfortunate for Dwyer High School as this was on national TV, but there needs to be a consequence for his action,” wrote Jones.

Aside from the suspension, Pagley said, O’Leary plans to speak to the Jupiter Tequesta Athletic Association, the Palm Beach Gardens Youth Athletic Association, and area middle schools about setting a good example.

“I think it’s a chance for him to expand as a person,” Pagley said. “He’s not a real vocal kid, but he knows it’s the right thing to do.”

Pagley said Dwyer plans to use O’Leary’s absence as a rallying point. Last season, Dwyer won 13 games in a row and a Class 4A state championship after a season-opening loss to Glades Central.

“This is the kind of thing that makes you family really quick,” Pagley said. “Just like Glades Central last year, we fell apart, and then we did what we did. And we’re going to do it again.”

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