High school board denies St. Petersburg Catholic plea

The football program remains banned from the playoffs until 2009.

Published October 1, 2006

GAINESVILLE — The Florida High School Athletic Association board of directors on Sunday denied an appeal by St. Petersburg Catholic, leaving the school’s football program ineligible for the playoffs until 2009 because of recruiting violations and illegal practices.

SPC acknowledged the illegal practices but sent representatives to Gainesville to fight the recruiting charges. The school denied the FHSAA’s findings and argued the penalty was excessive.

But the 17 FHSAA board of directors voted unanimously to uphold the decision the organization made in May. SPC also had to pay a $13,000 fine.

SPC will conduct an internal audit of its athletic program. If it shows sufficient progress, the board said, the school can return in two years to present its case to eliminate the final year of the playoff ban.

Father John Serio, SPC’s principal, said the school was disappointed with the decision.

“It was a new experience. In 17 years, this is my first appeals process,” Serio said. “The best thing you can do is try.”

Two recruiting charges involved St. Petersburg High players. According to an FHSAA investigation, the players attended an SPC practice with the coaches present, and one player applied for admission to the school shortly thereafter.

SPC didn’t accept one of the players in question. The other recanted his statement, but Sonny Hester, the FHSAA’s director of compliance, said the organization found the original statement more credible.

In a separate incident, Northeast basketball coach and athletic director Dave Redding wrote to the FHSAA alleging one of his athletes had been recruited by SPC. In FHSAA documents, Willie Davis, father of current Florida State receiver and former SPC quarterback Chris Davis, was cited for telling a Northeast student that the SPC coaches “would love for him to attend St. Petersburg Catholic High School and they would pay for school.”

Davis denied the charge.

Robert Biasotti, one of SPC’s lawyers, said last week coach Dan Mancuso and Davis “flatly deny” the reported conversations with Northeast and St. Petersburg athletes took place.

Mancuso resigned Sept. 25, citing personal reasons.

Biasotti was one of three local attorneys assembled by the Diocese of St. Petersburg (including Michael Keane and John Yanchunis) in May to conduct an investigation of the FHSAA’s findings.

Yanchunis said the investigation is not complete and the school will audit the entire athletic program.

“We’re still trying to get to the bottom of everything,” Yanchunis said.

Sunday, two of the school’s lawyers presented a 20-minute oral argument.

Part of the presentation was a letter signed by players from SPC’s current football team, which is 1-5.

The end read: “Our season has been a struggle, much of our support has been lost, and our coach is now gone.

We stand before you as players who want a fair shot at their dreams. Please don’t punish us for what others may or may not have done.”

But in the end, the board of directors determined the penalty was apt considering the facts of the case.