Throw Away the Rule Book

The agency charged with overseeing Florida's high school sports refuses to investigate Miami High's tainted basketball program

The people who oversee high school athletic competition in Dade County are investigating allegations of wrongdoing by the Miami High School basketball program. "We want [Miami High] to respond to a series of questions -- to our administration and our school board as well as to interested parties in our community," reports Dade County Public Schools spokesman Henry Fraind.

The same cannot yet be said of the Florida High School Activities Association, contrary to an article published March 9 in the Miami Herald. "We haven't had a request to do so," says FHSAA commissioner Ron Davis. "We're not right now. [The Herald reporter] apparently just misunderstood me."

The Herald story, headlined "FHSAA to investigate Miami High boys basketball" and published two days after the school won its third straight state championship, followed a New Times cover story ("Dream Team," March 5) that documented Miami High's apparent violation of a host of FHSAA rules covering recruiting, eligibility, and residence. "It's very interesting," Davis says of the New Times article, "and yet unless we can go in and prove recruiting, there's nothing we can do. And I'm sure that the stories you got out of them -- recruiting one or two guys, about having talked to a kid prior to him enrolling -- probably would change when we started asking the questions."

Probably so. But Miami High also appears to have broken some rules in the 1997-98 FHSAA handbook that are less susceptible to revisionism. For instance, senior forward Antonio Latimer lives in an efficiency apartment owned by the parents of an assistant in the school's athletic department. Also, according to school district records, sophomore forward Damion Fray lives with an assistant coach. FHSAA rules state that a player who lives "with any person associated with a school" can lose his athletic eligibility for a year.

Davis is not investigating those apparent rule violations, claiming he is constricted by a legislative mandate imposed in May 1997. The Florida legislature, upset with prior FHSAA rulings, ordered the association to dramatically simplify the eligibility process for high school sports in Florida.

In response, FHSAA rules now state that an athlete can live with whomever he pleases and anywhere he wants -- as long as he was properly enrolled in his school on the first day of classes. Davis claims the new, mandated rule supersedes other rules still in the FHSAA handbook. "Right now we've got changes [in the handbook] that didn't get made that maybe should have been made," he allows.

Davis could still investigate Miami High, even with the new rule. If any student was improperly enrolled at Miami High on the first day of classes (say, by using a false address, one belonging to a booster), then that student was never eligible to play sports. But Davis has no plans to follow up. Instead he says he intends to use the "Dream Team" article to lobby state legislators to return to FHSAA some of the power it lost last year. "I don't know what the legislature thought it was doing [when it mandated the new eligibility rule]," Davis says. "I cautioned them that it was going to let powerhouses be built up at the expense of other member schools. I don't know if they're interested in changes or not, but I'm going to take the article with me when I meet with them and let them read it."

Davis is therefore not investigating the curious case of Udonis Haslem, a senior forward for the Miami High team. According to his driver's license, according to his mother, and according to other records and eyewitness accounts, Haslem has lived full-time for the past two years with his father and his stepmother in Miramar, in Broward County. He enrolled at Miami High by using an address that belongs to a school booster named Bob Corella.

"Our hands are kind of tied in this situation," Davis concedes. "Not that I don't want to do anything about it. Nothing makes us happier than to expose what you've basically exposed, to follow up on the expose. But I think that if he did live in Broward County and if he gave a Dade County address, he violated [Dade County Public Schools'] rules, not ours."

Wayne Story, chairman of the Greater Miami Athletic Conference (an arm of the FHSAA), is the man who would be responsible for any local investigation of Miami High. Last week he declined to speak to New Times and referred all questions to schools spokesman Henry Fraind, who confirms that an investigation is under way. "Basically we're ascertaining the facts," Fraind reports. "We want to make sure everything is good. Right now the school says it's done everything by the book."

How can Miami High officials possibly account for Haslem's legal enrollment when he has lived for the past two years in Broward County? Fraind expresses skepticism. "Yes," he acknowledges, "that will be a tough one to explain.

 
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