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By Ciara LaVelle, Kat Bein, Carolina Del Busto, and Liz Tracy
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The gym equipment spills out onto a large lawn, where senior linebacker James Dumervil has parked the used Mercedes he drives. The shell of what Gachelin hopes will soon be a working hot tub waits nearby. Gachelin considers the yard one of the best features of his compound. According to state and local rules that govern athletics, "you can only practice a certain number of months a year," he notes. "With a yard this big, we can run plays year-round."
Looming over the yard is the "Backhouse," a boxy guest cottage that acts as a kind of cabana for the young football players, who call themselves the Backhouse Boys. The cottage features a common room with two leather couches, a telephone, and a TV connected to a Nintendo 64 game. Partially empty plastic bottles of soda rest on an end table in front of a San Francisco 49ers Jerry Rice growth chart. Two half-eaten boxes of Entenmann's chocolate cake mold on the TV console, near an introductory French textbook. On a door to a back room, someone has sketched eight of the Backhouse Boys, penciled depictions of Julius, James, Curry, and others, all in uniform. Although Gachelin's facility caters primarily to football players, two of the Backhouse Boys are not on the football team; one plays chess, and the other is a member of Jackson's track team.
James Dumervil, the best football player of the bunch, has his own room in the Backhouse, just off the common area, which is fully furnished and personalized with posters. Another bedroom, which doesn't belong to anyone in particular, contains two bunk beds with clothes strewn on all four mattresses. An old comforter covers a doorway connecting the room to an unused and dirty shower, toilet, and kitchen area.
FHSAA rules prohibit anyone from providing room and board to a student athlete. It's also illegal to promise to help students obtain college scholarships, which Gachelin says is his fundamental aim. When asked about the rules he appears to be violating, Gachelin acts unconcerned: "I don't see how they can say I'm doing anything wrong when I have a license to be doing this."
License is an inaccurate term. Gachelin has no license, though he does serve as president of the African-American Student Association, a nonprofit corporation he registered with the state in 1994. The association has not been approved by the state or the county or anyone else to operate a boarding school or anything remotely resembling one. "African-American is a nonprofit organization working with kids at risk," he says. "We work with them physically, mentally, and academically. My wife is a schoolteacher who tutors them for the SAT. That's the reason why I'm on the sidelines. I'm a coach yet I'm not a coach. I don't get a salary from Jackson, so I'm not a coach. What I do here is I'm coaching these guys for life."
By choice Gachelin does not receive money from and is not affiliated with any state or local social-service agencies. If he were associated with a formal organization, he'd likely have to meet minimum standards for safety and health, among other requirements. "If I was working for [the state Department of Children and Families], or if DCF was paying me," he says, "they'd have their right to come here and tell me, 'I want you to do this, I want you to do that.'"
Gachelin says he did explore the possibility of setting himself up as a foster-care home, but abandoned the idea after he learned he could not pick and choose the youths with whom he worked. He also discovered he couldn't become a foster parent to his current players, most of whom have at least one parent with a home and a full-time job. "If I got foster kids, then I'd have to send these kids here home," he shrugs, "and I don't want to do that."
So he continues to run an unlicensed, unregulated, informal operation that seems to be designed for talented young football players. He says he's training the kids for life, and arguably he is doing just that. But the training consists primarily of football workouts, weightlifting, and film reviews. His boarders refer to him as a coach. "Absolutely," declares James Dumervil, one of the top high school defensive line prospects in America. "That's exactly what he is."
Gachelin claims to have no income besides that provided by his wife, a public school teacher. On that income he says he can support his two grade-school children, his wife, himself, and as many as fifteen big, growing, teenage boys. He manages by scrimping and saving here and there. His mother, Bernadette Desrosier, confirms his claim. "I needed a battery for my car," she relates. "He said he couldn't help me because we want [to buy] some vitamins for the kids. I was mad at him. Afterward I realized that [the vitamins] were needed, and I went to my other son and he give me that battery. [Frank has] got the love of God."
Nearly two years ago, New Times published an exposé about the Miami Senior High School boys basketball program ("Dream Team," March 5, 1998). Players on the nationally ranked Stingarees squad used fake addresses supplied by Miami High employees and team boosters to enroll at the historic school, located on Flagler Street in Little Havana. One star player really lived in suburban comfort in Miami Lakes. Another lived in Broward County.