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

Just three years ago, none of his players attended Jackson. Gachelin and his mother owned a house in Opa-locka, within the attendance boundaries of Hialeah-Miami Lakes Senior High. Trophies in a case at the current compound recognize both James Dumervil and Louis Gachelin as the most outstanding male athletes in their respective classes at that school. But prior to the start of the 1997-1998 school year, the entire operation moved from Hialeah-Miami Lakes to Jackson. "I left Miami Lakes because I didn't get along with the coach," Gachelin recounts. "He didn't do what I wanted him to do. He didn't have the kids' best interests at heart."

The mass transfer prompted an investigation by both the FHSAA and the Greater Miami Athletic Conference. The investigation centered on Gachelin and Alex Armenteros, who in June 1997 quit his job as head track coach at Hialeah-Miami Lakes to become head track coach at Jackson. Soon after he quit, Hialeah-Miami Lakes staff members began complaining that Armenteros was attempting to recruit their athletes to his new school. Seven students made the switch. Five of them were members of Gachelin's crew, and they now form the core of Jackson's outstanding football team.

Shifting his allegiance wasn't easy for Gachelin. Athletes hoping to change schools sometimes enroll in a magnet program offered by the school they want to attend, for example the education magnet at Miami High or the computer science and technology magnet at Central. (Using an academic magnet as a subterfuge for athletic recruiting is expressly forbidden, though it's rarely, if ever, enforced.) Gachelin first attempted to transfer some of his players into Jackson's Reserve Officers' Training Corps (ROTC) magnet, but the effort was rebuffed by the Hialeah-Miami Lakes principal because his school has its own ROTC program. Eventually Gachelin rented from a friend a second home inside the Jackson attendance boundary, and all his players claimed to move there from Opa-locka. In a final report closing out his investigation of the transfer, the FHSAA's Ron Allen expressed doubts about whether Gachelin and the players ever fully moved to the new Jackson-area home. Among his findings:

•Before the transfer to Jackson, Gachelin sought to become a Hialeah-Miami Lakes assistant football coach but was not given the job. Soon after the transfer, Gachelin was listed in the county coaches directory as a Jackson coach.

•Hialeah-Miami Lakes student Keith Cowin, when interviewed, stated that "Mr. Gachelin told him that Miami Jackson Senior High School would have a good team, possibly a championship team, and that was the place to be. Mr. Gachelin also stated, allegedly, that Miami Jackson Senior High School had a special magnet program in which he [Cowin] could be placed."

•Two other Hialeah-Miami Lakes students who lived near Gachelin's Opa-locka house insisted Gachelin's players continued to live in Opa-locka.

•A social worker paying a Sunday-evening visit found Frank Gachelin at the Opa-locka house. He said he only lives there on weekends and that during the week he lives in the Jackson district. Gachelin's youngest son continued to attend a grade school located two blocks from the Opa-locka house.

•"It is interesting to note," Allen wrote, "that student Curry Burns's guardian is listed as a Ms. Esperanta Burns, but the address of record [with the school district] is" Gachelin's new address inside the Jackson attendance boundary.

Despite all this documentation, Allen did not find overwhelming evidence of recruiting violations. Or more precisely, none that he could enforce. He specifically cited a loophole that existed in FHSAA rules at the time: "A student shall be eligible in the school in which he/she first enrolls each school year...." Because the transfer students were enrolled in Jackson, they were allowed to attend and play for Jackson.

And so the onus shifted to Cuevas and his subordinates at the GMAC, who now faced several troubling questions: How were these student athletes allowed to enroll at Jackson? Is the Jackson ROTC magnet being abused for athletic purposes? How can one man and his young children live at two addresses? How can student Curry Burns claim to live at the Gachelin compound when his legal guardian lives elsewhere? And isn't it curious that several of the best athletes in the county all claim to live with a person described by Ron Allen as "a 'want-to-be' coach?"

Not one of those questions has been answered. Following the investigations the GMAC merely placed Jackson's athletic program on probation for one year, and reprimanded track coach Alex Armenteros. The school also was fined $500.

With the infusion of Gachelin-trained football players, the Jackson Generals improved their record from 2-7 in 1996 to 8-3 in 1997-1998. The Soul Bowl blossomed from a small rivalry that couldn't fill a 12,000-seat community stadium into an Orange Bowl showdown that has generated for Jackson more than $500,000 in profits from ticket sales since the Gachelin transfer.


Jackson principal Louis Allen did not return phone calls seeking comment. Neither did Northwestern athletic director Gregory Killings. In a written response, Northwestern principal Steve Gallon directed all questions to Henry Fraind. Only Jackson athletic director Jake Caldwell defended his school's football program. At least initially. "All my kids are eligible at Jackson," he said during a brief telephone interview. "I don't know why you're looking at our program." But when asked about Frank Gachelin's relationship to the Jackson football team, Caldwell suddenly clammed up. "I have no comment," he said. "I have no comment on anything you're working on."

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