Dream Team

For years Miami Senior High School has fielded one of the best basketball teams in the nation. But getting into the record books has meant tossing out the rule books.

Enforcement of the eligibility rules falls to Wayne Story, executive secretary of the Greater Miami Athletic Conference, the local arm of the FHSAA. Story says he won't initiate an investigation until someone -- an athletic director or perhaps a rival coach -- puts a complaint in writing: "I hear rumors all the time. But before I can do anything, I need written verification of a witness who saw a coach or a booster talking to a kid or that a kid does not live at the address he's supposed to. If I get that, then I can go out and speak with these people."

Story rarely receives written complaints. Several athletic directors told New Times that the complaint process is a no-win situation. "If you lose [a game] and you file a complaint, it's seen as sour grapes," says one athletic director. "It also takes something in writing, and no one wants to be seen as the whistleblower."

Tom Moore, coach at Southwest High School, is one of the most respected coaches in Dade County, in part because he refuses to accept transfer players on his team. He once followed through on a complaint. He wishes he hadn't. "I went to court one time and we won," he recalls. "I said after it was over that I wouldn't do it again. Because a child is involved. Kids. Screwing over a kid to get at a parent doesn't seem right."

FHSAA commissioner Ron Davis bristles at Moore's logic. "That's a cop-out," Davis says. He notes that the complaint system is designed to level the playing field, not to "get" parents. But Davis does acknowledge that some pain is necessary if things are to improve. "Somebody somewhere along the line is going to have to be hurt," he says. "If not by the complaint, then by what's going on [with transferring], if that is indeed what's going on."

On the other hand, Davis says discovering violations is not the association's job. "We are an enforcement agency. We are not a police force. We don't have a cadre of detectives up here to perform those duties," he says, pausing for a moment to reconsider his statement. "There is a cadre of enforcement officers out there who are supposed to make sure their organizations follow the rules, to make sure booster clubs and the faculty members and the athletic community know the rules. Those people are known as the principals of our member schools."

Miami High principal Victor Lopez didn't want to address specific questions about boosters and transfers and athletic eligibility. He referred such questions to Tiger Nunez, his athletic director. But he did speak generally about his ballyhooed basketball program, noting with pride that he regards the team as a valuable commodity. Attendance at Miami High has dropped slightly in recent years, which Lopez blames in part on a shooting in the main hallway two years ago. The basketball team's success, the principal says, has prevented a greater exodus, which could have hurt the school financially. "It's been a real focal point, something we can rally around," he says. "It brings people to the school and it improves the atmosphere of the school. Students walk around Miami High proudly wearing basketball team T-shirts." Lopez himself wears a large "Back to Back" state championship ring.

The principal regards his school's emphasis on winning as something to respect and cherish. "Basketball is big here," he explains. "When I went to this school as a student, basketball was big. When I was a teacher, it was big. Today it is still big. This is not something that happened in the past couple of years. It is something that's been going on for more than 30 years. If you want to study marine biology, you go to MAST Academy. If you want to play basketball, you go to Miami High."

Nunez, athletic director for fifteen years, has been associated with Miami High even longer. He attended classes at the school with Shakey Rodriguez, his best friend. As athletic director, he tabbed Frank Martin as Rodriguez's replacement because he wanted to keep the program in the Miami High family, as he refers to it. One reason almost every local athletic official New Times spoke to asked to remain anonymous is that most of them like and respect Nunez, even while they criticize the program he oversees.

"I wish I could tell you, I wish I could literally look in your eyes and say my program is clean," Nunez says. "But I can't. I don't know what [the] alumni are doing. I can't totally control them and I don't know how to. I do what I can. Anytime I have a transfer I don't feel comfortable with I call that school's athletic director. Especially with a high-profile transfer like Steven Blake. When I heard he was coming over, the first thing I did is call up Pete Hertler [the A.D.] at Killian and ask, 'What's going on?' If he or if anyone has a problem, I'll investigate it or stop the kid from playing."

Whether anyone will file a written complaint about Blake or Latimer or any of the other players who appear to have broken FHSAA rules remains to be seen. But the feeling among local coaches is that Miami High is not likely to forfeit the championship it is expected to win this Saturday. Come October, Nunez will likely hang another banner from the Asylum rafters. New championship rings -- Martin's eighth, counting his tenure as an assistant -- will probably still be handed out.

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