St. Petersburg Times Online: Business

Weather | Sports | Forums | Comics | Classifieds | Calendar | Movies

Brandon exonerated, excoriated

Published March 30, 2004

BRANDON - Brandon High's nationally renowned wrestling program suffered no penalties Monday after a two-month investigation by the Florida High School Athletic Association into allegations of recruiting violations.

In a letter from the FHSAA, Brandon did, however, get a bit of a tongue lashing.

The FHSAA's investigation began Jan.26 when it received a letter from Countryside High athletic coordinator Steve Blumer alleging the Eagles recruited Franklin Gomez of Puerto Rico and Miami's Marco Toledo at a club tournament last summer in Fargo, N.D.

Not long after the Fargo tournament, Gomez and Toledo transferred to Brandon and moved in with parents of Brandon wrestlers.

The problem finding fault was that the information was supplied by Countryside coach Dave Frayer, though he, his assistants and their top wrestlers were not at the meet in Fargo.

In the letter faxed Monday, FHSAA associate commissioner Dan Boyd wrote, "No credible first-person information has come forth."

One sentence later, however, Boyd began voicing misgivings on how Brandon presented the cases of Gomez and Toledo to the FHSAA appeals board, which approved their athletic eligibility in November and January, respectively. The FHSAA had previously ruled the wrestlers ineligible.

Boyd wrote the Fargo "relationships" were withheld, the athleticism of Gomez and Toledo wasn't fully disclosed and "For me to believe that this was a random placement of two wrestlers who competed last summer at the Fargo Nationals is to defy logic."

Brandon athletic director Sonny Hester said he was pleased it was "a happy ending" but took exception to some statements.

"We did everything we were supposed to do according the letter of the laws," Hester said. "When I found out (Gomez and Toledo) were here and hadn't received proper FHSAA approval I immediately made them ineligible for cross country, which they were running. Then we took them to the appeals committee and they approved them.

"No, I didn't know about Fargo, but Fargo was never an issue. Nothing happened there so why would we even think about it?

"I think Fargo was just an attempt by Dave Frayer to discredit us because he was mad that we had beaten him (the past two years)."

Frayer, a longtime critic of Brandon's 30-year-old, national-record, 395 dual match winning streak, said he only was supplying information to his school's officials about possible violations.

"Again, I did not write the letter," Frayer said. "I was privy to the information and there appeared to be some stuff there. ... I'm fine with the decision."

Brandon coach Russ Cozart could not be reached for comment.

The ruling assures Brandon, which won its 15th state team title in February, will keep its state tournament record for points intact at 261 (which beat runner-up Countryside by 103.5).

If Gomez and Toledo had been found ineligible, the 28 points they scored at the state tournament would have been deducted, leaving Brandon short of its state tournament record of 246.5 set last year.

Gomez and Toledo's points throughout the year also would have been taken away, but the school's duel-meet record would not have been in jeopardy.

In the future, though, Boyd said Brandon needs to be careful.

"We won't forget this," Boyd said Monday. "I know Sonny Hester and (Brandon principal) Denny Oeast are good men, but Brandon has some issues. If I was them I'd take some action and get some things in order over there."

If Brandon had been found in violation, the situation could have been much more dire because the school is in the first year of a two-year administrative probation. That violation stemmed from not seeking approval from the FHSAA for the athletic participation of five basketball players who lived outside the school's district.

"We know that any program that's good is going to be under the microscope," Hester said. "They don't allege recruiting if you stink. It comes with the territory. If people can't take you down on the field then they'll try to take you down in the court."

- Times staff writer Bob Putnam contributed to this report.

© Copyright, St. Petersburg Times. All rights reserved.