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FHSAA levels playing field against sports academies

By KEITH NIEBUHR and JAMAL THALJI

© St. Petersburg Times, published April 11, 2001


GAINESVILLE -- Specialized sports academies will have to field more rounded athletic programs in the future if they hope to compete for state championships thanks to a rule change Tuesday by the Florida High School Activities Association.

Schools such as Wesley Chapel's Saddlebrook Prep, which attracts students from all over the world with its golf and tennis teams, must field teams in at least two FHSAA-sanctioned sports per season -- fall, winter and spring -- beginning with the 2003-2004 academic year. The proposal, which doesn't affect a school's FHSAA membership, passed the representative assembly by a 53-5 vote.

"The intent is for the schools to offer well-rounded athletic programs in three seasons," said FHSAA commissioner Bob Hughes, who sponsored the proposal.

"We think this will help maintain the prestige and credibility of our state championships."

Another proposal, one that would have forced private schools to compete against larger public schools, was rejected 37-21.

It's not certain how many sports Saddlebrook Prep, which fields boys and girls teams for golf and tennis, will have to add. Hughes said the association has not decided if sports such as boys golf and girls golf will be counted as one sport or two.

Even if boys and girls golf and boys and girls tennis count as a total of four sports -- two in the fall and two in the spring -- Saddlebrook would need to add two winter sports by 2003 or forfeit the chance at state championships.

Officials at Saddlebrook said they were unaware of the amendment and that it was passed until a Times reporter contacted the school. Headmaster Stephen Robinson said he would have to confer with Saddlebrook sports president Greg Riehley before commenting.

The school won state girls golf titles in 1999 and was the state runner-up in '98 and '00.

Also rejected Tuesday was a proposal that would have eliminated restrictions on the so-called "50-50" rule, which prohibits coaches from running any non-school teams if more than half the players play for the same coach in high school.

Proponents of the rule say it is a deterrent to recruiting.

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