SPC gears up for appeal of postseason ban

Published May 30, 2007

ST. PETERSBURG -- The hearing may last only 20 minutes.

But to St. Petersburg Catholic senior receiver Darin Hess, the school's appeal Thursday in Orlando to the Florida High School Athletics Association board of directors is much bigger.

"It gives us some hope."

SPC's principal, Father John Serio, said he plans to ask the board to consider waiving the final two years of the program's three-year postseason ban, which was levied in May 2006 by the FHSAA, along with a $13,000 fine, for illegal practices and recruiting violations.

Serio said the school has paid the fine, conceding to the illegal practices while pointing to "inconsistencies" in the recruiting charges. The principal said that "swift and serious restructuring of personnel and policies" since last October's failed first appeal makes a potential case for SPC to be reinstated to full standing with the FHSAA.

Some of the changes Serio outlined:

But one board member said Tuesday that SPC's proposed changes aren't enough to sway him, adding that for such "egregious and blatant violations," extraordinary measures would have to be taken for him to overturn a previous ruling.

"I think that the original sentence is warranted based on how egregious the acts were at that time," said Roger Dearing, FHSAA board member and superintendent for Manatee County Public Schools. "It's like they are doing now what they should have been doing all along."

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The FHSAA charged SPC with three counts of recruiting and four counts of illegal practices.

But Serio said the recruiting charges are "questionable" in one way or another. According to the FHSAA case file obtained by the Times, Antwan Carson (Northeast), Lawon Scott (St. Petersburg) and Jernois Bradberry (St. Petersburg) were recruited by SPC but none of them attended the school.

Carson confirmed Monday he spoke with former SPC assistant Willie Davis last spring at a basketball league at Wildwood Community Center. Carson, who said he knew Davis through church, said Davis gave him a gray SPC basketball sweatshirt and said, "We could sure use you."

Carson, who committed to play safety for Bethel College (Tennessee), also is one of the school's top basketball players. According to the case file, Davis said he "never spoke" to Carson and didn't know who Carson was.

"For him to say that, that's wrong," Carson said. "I'm sticking to my story. I know what happened. Coach Davis knows what happened."

Scott, now a freshman lineman at Ole Miss, said Tuesday he "wasn't recruited" by SPC coaches. He said he attended speed and conditioning workouts put on by SPC assistant coach Rod Williams and considered attending SPC.

Serio, however, said Scott applied to SPC, but after the star lineman told him he had spoken with an SPC coach, he made it clear the player would not be admitted.

Bradberry confirmed Tuesday he signed a statement for an FHSAA investigator last year after attending an SPC practice with another Green Devils player. The statement read, in part, "the head coach from St. Petersburg Catholic ... was saying he needed us on the team and that he would pay for our tuition and everything that needed to be paid for me to come to St. Pete Catholic next year to play for him."

Bradberry has graduated and signed to play safety and run track for the University of the Cumberlands (Williamsburg, Ky.). He wouldn't elaborate on another signed statement that essentially recanted the recruiting allegations, only saying it was "illegal;" the document was taken by a former SPC assistant coach and notarized after the fact.

Serio said he was "astounded, " when the school's attorneys told him the statement was improperly notarized, admitting it "clouds" that particular piece of evidence.

Joe Smith can be reached at joesmith@sptimes.com or (727) 893-8129.