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Florida High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner Sonny Hester will make an on-campus visit to SPC sometime next week, as a followup to the school's appeal hearing in May.
By JOE SMITH
Published July 13, 2007
Tod Creneti is taking his family on a Disney World vacation next week.
But the first-year St. Petersburg Catholic football coach said he's planning an 80-mile detour back home for at least one "very important" afternoon.
That's because Florida High School Athletic Association assistant commissioner Sonny Hester will make an on-campus visit to SPC sometime next week, as a followup to the school's appeal hearing in May.
In that hearing, the FHSAA board of directors voted 7-6 to deny SPC's appeal for the second time in seven months, leaving the school's football program ineligible for the playoffs until 2009 because of recruiting violations and illegal practices.
But a unique motion by the board stated FHSAA commissioner John Stewart could reassess SPC's penalty after Hester reviewed and verified the school's corrective actions since May 2006, when they were charged with three counts of recruiting and four counts of illegal practices.
Hester told the Times in May that potential implications of his on-site trips and Stewart's pending decision could range anywhere from SPC "getting their spring and fall jamborees back to complete revocation of the penalties."
Stewart always has the autonomy to mitigate a school's penalties, but he rarely does. In four years, he said he's lessened penalties twice (neither of those involved repeat offenders, such as SPC).
However, this was the first time the board publicly put the onus back on Stewart. Combined with the board's narrow 7-6 vote (as opposed to unanimous denial in October 2006), that could ease Stewart's typical reluctance to go back on the board's decision.
Stewart lauded SPC at the hearing, commending it "to the highest for what they've done." The school has a new coach in Creneti and is in the process of hiring a new athletic director.
SPC principal, Father John Serio, said he has met with any potential transfer students throughout the spring to make sure they weren't contacted by anyone associated with the school in regard to athletics. But what Stewart seemed most impressed with was the fact that SPC included an excerpt of the FHSAA's definition of recruiting in their parent bulletin and mailed it to 1,100 recipients in October 2006.
Those mailers are the types of actions Hester said he plans on verifying during his on-campus visit. Hester will then meet with Stewart, who said the two could also consult FHSAA's leadership committee before making any decision.
"You've got to measure it against a couple things," Stewart said. "You've got a kid coming in as a freshman who didn't have any part in (the violations). But you also have (SPC) competing against a lot of member schools that followed the rules."
What: FHSAA assistant commissioner Sonny Hester will visit St. Petersburg Catholic's campus next week to verify and examine the corrective actions the school said it made in its May appeal hearing.
Why: The FHSAA board of directors, which voted 7-6 to deny SPC's appeal of penalties resulting from recruiting violations and illegal practices, made a unique motion to have FHSAA commissioner John Stewart possibly reassess the sentence after Hester's visit(s).
At stake: SPC has paid its $13,000 fine, but the football program is still banned from the postseason until 2009 and cannot play in fall or spring classics. Hester said his visit and resulting decision could lead to nothing, SPC getting to play its spring and fall exhibitions, or a "complete revocation" of the penalties.
What they're saying: "We feel pretty good about it. We just have to wait and see what happens. We're not going to be down on it - we're just hoping for the best."- SPC quarterback Kevin Tapp