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

The article prompted a major FHSAA investigation that ultimately resulted in the team being stripped of its 1998 state championship. More violations were uncovered on the school's excellent baseball and boys soccer teams. Several players were permanently banned from playing for Miami High, and the school was assessed more than $7000 in fines and expenses. The FHSAA's president at the time was Ron Davis, who observed, "This is one of the most, if not the most, blatant violations of FHSAA rules against recruiting I have encountered."

Chagrined local school officials promised a crackdown on enrollment skullduggery. "We are going to clean up Dade public-school athletics, and notice has been served," said deputy superintendent Henry Fraind. "Any coach, assistant, or athletic director found to have a part in recruiting or any other such violation will be immediately terminated from their supplementary position in athletics. We will win championships in a rightful manner, or we won't win them at all. Coaches must again learn to coach with their own athletes."

Today, however, those sanctimonious vows ring empty. Recruiting and attracting transfer students remain essential ingredients in the formula for success in high school athletics. "It didn't even slow down," says Buddy Goins, head football coach at Miami Springs High. "In fact it looks like it's picked up." Investigations by the Greater Miami Athletic Conference are far from proactive; they are usually instigated only after embarrassing publicity, such as the Miami High exposé or the lawsuit filed against Columbus High. And the punishments assessed, if any, are often less onerous than a delay of game penalty. As one local high school athletic director puts it: "The disincentive to cheat is very, very small."

Backhouse Boy Quincy Brown (number 98) pursues Northwestern quarterback Dante Jimeson, a transfer from Miami Springs
Backhouse Boy Quincy Brown (number 98) pursues Northwestern quarterback Dante Jimeson, a transfer from Miami Springs
Brown closes in on Jimeson
Brown closes in on Jimeson

Superintendent Roger Cuevas turned down requests to be interviewed for this article. School district deputy superintendent Henry Fraind refused to allow interviews with GMAC head Fred Rodgers or with Wayne Story, the GMAC's executive secretary. (Following the publication of "Dream Team," Story acknowledged that Fraind had forbidden him from ever speaking to New Times.) That leaves only Fraind to comment, and as usual, it's tough talk. "This is the one thing that brings out the ire in our superintendent," Fraind says earnestly. "This whole thing, reading about it, he cannot stand it. He can't stand to hear the word even, recruiting. There is a standing directive from this office that anyone found violating the premise of 'Just let the young person participate by the rules' -- anything other than that, he will take swift, hard action. We don't want to tolerate this nonsense. And frankly we're tired of hearing about it."

Veteran school board member Holmes Braddock cuts Cuevas some slack. He says it isn't possible for the GMAC to verify the home address of every player on every sports team. It's not even reasonable for a school principal to do that much, he contends. Even though cheating in local high school athletic programs is pervasive and blatant, Cuevas and the GMAC can only act when they are informed of a specific violation. "The question is, if it's reported, is anything really done about it?" Braddock says. "That is the key question: When it is being brought to the attention of the powers that be, is something really being done?"

Not in the case of Frank Gachelin and Jackson High School.

The big house on the Gachelin compound maintains the clubby feel of the Backhouse. In the garage are arranged crates of bananas, peanut butter, mayonnaise, oatmeal, and other foods, including cases of Zone Force energy drink. White buckets in the kitchen hold enormous supplies of whey protein, creatine, and other supplements. "That's what's great about this place," Gachelin boasts. "In school you can't give a kid an aspirin, but here we give them vitamins, protein, creatine. We know how to make them healthy. They get better food over here. We watch a lot of game films on the TV over here. It gives us an edge, and that's why they like it here."

The dominant piece of furniture is a pool table, located in the main room. A giant stereo system is fed a regular supply of rap-music CDs. Several of the electric guitars Gachelin plays sit near a trophy case that houses game balls won by Louis Gachelin and James Dumervil. There's also a plaque awarded to Frank Gachelin in 1997: "In appreciation for your significant contribution to the Miami Jackson Senior High football program."

All the players Gachelin works with attend Jackson. "If I tell my kids this is the school you are going to, [then] this is the school you are going to," he says of his decision to turn down offers to transfer his kids to Northwestern or Miami Central. He claims he has been promised more than $25,000 by alumni to steer his athletes to one of these schools. "I could probably get more if I wanted to," he adds. "But when a guy gives me money, he owns me. You got to go by his rules, and I'm not going to do that. The best way to fight the devil is to stay away from the devil, you know what I'm saying? You keep your money to yourself, and I'll keep my players to me."

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