Winning Is Everything

In Miami there's one sure way to build a championship high school sports team: Throw out the rule book and cheat like hell

Jumping from school to school is not supposed to be easy. All local public schools draw their students from a specific geographic area known as the school's attendance boundary. With few exceptions an athlete is allowed to change schools only when his parents or guardian move from an address inside one school's attendance boundary to an address inside another school's boundary. The rules, which were created to prevent teams from developing an unfair advantage by stockpiling athletic talent, are enforced at the state level by the Florida High School Activities Association (FHSAA), the 80-year-old, nonprofit organization that governs high school sports in Florida. Miami-Dade County Public Schools also has an enforcement arm, known as the Greater Miami Athletic Conference (GMAC).

According to records on file with the school district and obtained by New Times, ten Jackson High players claim to live within that school's attendance boundary, though their driver licenses or state identification cards indicate they reside outside the boundary. Sophomore Garrod Palmer is one example. According to school-district records, his home is a small house on NW 42nd Street, inside the Jackson attendance boundary. When New Times called in search of Palmer, the phone was handed to one Steve Johnson, who identified himself as Palmer's uncle. "He's not here right now," said Johnson. "He's down the street, probably chasing girls. I'll have him call you when he gets back." Palmer didn't call back, though the next day Steve Johnson did. He said Palmer has lived with him at the house near Jackson since the boy was eight years old. But Palmer's state ID card has him living with his father, mother, and grandmother in North Miami Beach, outside the Jackson attendance boundary. "He stays with his father [in North Miami Beach] on the weekends," Johnson explained. "He stays with me during the week." Johnson, however, is not registered with the school district as Palmer's guardian. Garrod's father, Vincent Palmer, further confused matters by insisting he lives full-time at the house near Jackson, not at the North Miami Beach address. "I only get my mail there," he said.

An additional twelve Jackson players provided the school district with home addresses that lie outside Jackson's attendance boundaries. According to those records, for example, Jackson quarterback Ronnie Jones lives within the attendance boundaries of rival Northwestern, and wide receiver Luther Huggins should be attending Carol City High in North Miami-Dade. District records also show that none of the dozen players received administrative transfers or participate in magnet programs, the most common ways to transfer without physically moving to a new address. New Times submitted the names of these players to Jackson athletic director Jake Caldwell and asked for an explanation. He declined to provide one.

On the morning of the big game Gachelin drills his recruits
On the morning of the big game Gachelin drills his recruits
Gachelin's pep talk: "Northwestern is not doing what we're doing here. This game is already going on in our heads."
Gachelin's pep talk: "Northwestern is not doing what we're doing here. This game is already going on in our heads."

A similar situation exists at Northwestern. Tramyne Chappelle is a Northwestern football player whose address in school-district records matches a house located within eyesight of Carol City High. Thanks to an administrative transfer from Carol City, Chappelle now attends Northwestern. But his driver license, issued earlier this year, has him living in Miramar, in Broward County, at a lakefront house where his mother and father claim a homestead exemption, registering it as their full-time residence. "He lives here," said his mother, Esther Chappelle, when reached by phone at the Miramar house. "He's my son." The house near Carol City High is owned by Chappelle's grandfather.

The driver license of Northwestern senior defensive back Tyrone Collins indicates that he lives in Opa-locka, outside the school's attendance boundary. According to school-district records, though, he lives inside Northwestern's boundaries but in an abandoned house with broken and boarded-up windows. A faded sign advertises "rooms for rent" and lists a phone number. "Somebody told you they live there?" asked property owner Amos Larkins when reached by phone. "Unh uh, baby. Nobody's lived there for years. Somebody's pulling your leg."

Northwestern sophomore Quintell Williams lives with his guardian, Louise Watkins, and her husband in a house on NW 42nd Street, outside the Bulls' attendance boundaries -- at least according to his Florida driver license, which was issued only three months ago. School-district records, however, have him living inside the Northwestern attendance boundary at a dreary public-housing unit located on Martin Luther King Boulevard in Liberty City. "Who?" asked the elderly woman who lives in the unit. "Quintell Williams? I've never heard of anyone by that name."

Across MLK Boulevard a few doors east of the housing project is the home of senior nose guard Issa Gary, according to school records. The building is a small shack covered by a tarpaper roof and decorated with peeling blue paint. Next door is an empty lot littered with twenty abandoned automobiles. Hardly the place one would expect to find the son of Howard Gary, former Miami city manager, prosperous bond dealer, and a key figure in recent corruption scandals at the city and county. Yet this house, owned by Issa's aunt, Rosalie Simms, is where he claims to reside. He wasn't there when New Times paid a recent visit, though Simms was and said Issa would call when he returned. He didn't, but his mother did the next morning. Antonia Williams-Gary, divorced from Howard Gary and living in Belle Meade, insists her son lives with Simms, even though the boy's driver license indicates he lives with his father on the fifth floor of the Charter Club, a waterfront condominium north of downtown Miami.

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