What's the Principal?

As the state slams Miami High for poor sportsmanship, principal Victor Lopez dodges blame

Henry Fraind could not have made his point any more forcefully. When it first became apparent that Miami High recruiting infractions would cost the school its 1998 boys' basketball title, the deputy superintendent of Miami-Dade Public Schools assured reporters that violators would be punished.

"We're not going to tolerate any nonsense," Fraind told WTVJ-TV (Channel 6), his face frozen in a glower. "Principals are fully accountable for their actions."

That was June. Last week Florida High School Activities Association director Ron Davis cited Miami High for the most egregious violations in the association's 79-year history. The school must forfeit 84 wins in three sports. Davis stripped the basketball team of its state title, banned several athletes from playing in Florida next year, and levied thousands of dollars in fines.

It would seem this is the "nonsense" that Fraind found intolerable. Yet, after last week's ruling, the deputy superintendent sounded downright conciliatory toward Miami High principal Victor Lopez -- who has absolute authority over his school's athletic program. Fraind told New Times that recruiting rules are "loosey-goosey," and that there is a lot of "finger pointing going on" between school officials. Closed-door "fact-finding meetings" will be held, he said. And Lopez -- who has publicly decried the investigation of his school -- will be left to clean his own house.

"The strategy we're taking is this: We're going to first let Victor Lopez deal with his staff," Fraind allowed. "The regional superintendent ... will have a discussion forthcoming about what Victor plans to do, if anything. And [all Miami-Dade principals] have been spoken to about the importance of abiding by all rules."

But how about holding Lopez accountable for rules his school has been nailed for breaking? Will the principal be fired? Will he be reprimanded? After much pressing, Fraind admits punishment is unlikely: "There is no movement afoot at this moment to discipline Victor Lopez. Absolutely none."

Lopez did not return repeated phone calls seeking comment.
What of Fraind's superiors? School Board member Renier Diaz de la Portilla contends he's not allowed to meddle in personnel decisions. "I think the ball is really in [School Superintendent] Roger Cuevas's court," he says. Cuevas and District 4 Superintendent James Moye -- Lopez's boss -- referred inquiries to Fraind.

Ever loquacious, Fraind insists a get-tough policy is coming. "We are going to go forward, not backward," Fraind says, maintaining his serious face. "One thing I will assure you is that we will hold senior high principals fully accountable for their actions."

The FHSAA's ruling against Miami High could lead to a widespread reform of high school sports in Miami-Dade County. Both the Miami Herald and Fort Lauderdale Sun-Sentinel have called for a crackdown.

Or it could lead to nothing. The FHSAA's Davis is bracing for a court challenge. "What we tried to do is make sure we touched all bases and ran [the Miami High decision] past our board," Davis says. "Not to say that it won't be overturned in the courts, but we've tried our best."

Even if the Miami High ruling stands, it seems the school will end up a winner. Consider this: In March, in a moment of exquisite symmetry, Miami High received $1800 from the City of Miami to pay for a state championship banner and victory letter jackets. The philanthropist was then-Miami City Commissioner Humberto Hernandez -- presently on trial in a case that involves illegal recruiting of absentee voters.

So now that the school has been stripped of the title (and Hernandez has been removed from office), does the cash-strapped city want the public money back? "No," says Joe Sanchez, Hernandez's commission replacement. Sanchez is a Miami High graduate. How does he feel about his Stingarees losing the basketball title? "I really have no comments on that," he says. "It hurt me."

And Nike, the shoe company that provides Miami High with footwear, uniforms, and equipment, still just does it for the tainted school. "We have always stood behind all of our teams as well as our athletes," says Oregon-based spokesman Paul Murphy. "We stood behind ... I can't think of the name of her, that figure skater ..."

Tonya Harding?
"Yes! Tonya Harding. We stood behind her and we have always stood behind all of our teams.

 
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