Two of Miami-Dade County's top high school football teams -- Northwestern and Jackson -- are stocked with ineligible players who employ dubious addresses in order to attend and play for their schools. Numerous student athletes on both teams, which are among the best in the nation, claim to live within their schools' attendance boundaries, yet driver licenses and other public records indicate they actually live outside those boundaries and should be attending different schools. At least one player lives in Broward County. Another claims to live in a house that has been abandoned for more than two years. More than six players say they live at the same address, in a private home that functions as an elite football-training facility.
These improprieties and others documented in a New Times investigation will surprise absolutely no one who is familiar with high school sports in Miami-Dade's public schools. Despite tough talk in the wake of a recruiting scandal at Miami High School two years ago, district superintendent Roger Cuevas has failed to enforce state and local regulations that prohibit recruiting and unauthorized student transfers. The result: a form of institutionalized corruption that taints high school athletics throughout the system.
There is little doubt that many of the best teams in virtually every sport played at Miami-area high schools feature questionable recruits. Name the game and you'll find at least one school to which talented players are drawn like nails to a magnet, be it volleyball, wrestling, soccer, or even badminton (Jackson High's shuttlecock team hasn't lost a match in eight years). The recruitment of star athletes, traditionally a clandestine practice, became a public issue earlier this year, when former football coach Dennis Lavelle filed a lawsuit against Christopher Columbus High, claiming his principal ordered him to recruit student players. (Though Columbus is private, it competes against Miami-Dade's public schools and must abide by all their rules and regulations.)
An examination of any championship team would likely reveal violations of local and state rules. Jackson and Northwestern just happen to be in the spotlight. In football-crazy Florida, and in a county where local high schools have won the past three state titles and five championships since 1991, Jackson and Northwestern finished the regular season ranked numbers one and two in Miami-Dade. Northwestern is the defending state champ. Most visibly, Jackson and Northwestern play each year in the Soul Bowl, a regular-season game that draws more than 40,000 fans to the Orange Bowl and is celebrated for the sense of community it fosters in Miami's predominately black inner city, where both schools are located. The Miami Herald calls the Soul Bowl "the jewel of high school sports in Miami-Dade." Herald sports columnist Linda Robertson raved about the contest: "The Soul Bowl illustrates all that's right about the forgotten value of neighborhood, all that is wondrous about tradition, all that is inspiring about school spirit."
She might have added: It also illustrates just how pervasive cheating has become.
At this year's Soul Bowl, held in early November, a man named Fleurant "Frank" Gachelin stood on the Orange Bowl sidelines. He wore khaki pants, a green-and-yellow Jackson Generals pullover, and a green hat emblazoned with the General's team logo. He counseled players as they rested on the bench, spoke into the ears of coaches on the Jackson staff, and stood next to Jackson athletic director Jake Caldwell as they both watched the action on the field. At halftime he jogged into the locker room, part of the team.
Gachelin runs what he refers to as a "boarding school" for as many as fifteen of Jackson's finest athletes. In a sprawling compound located within the attendance boundaries of Northwestern High (in fact only a long field goal from the Northwestern campus), Gachelin drills the entire Jackson defensive line in weight training and aerobic exercises. He feeds them protein powder and muscle-building supplements. In a specially equipped TV room, he reviews with them endless hours of videotaped game footage as he tries to turn them into the best football players in the nation. The "operation" (as Gachelin calls it) has been great for Jackson and for the boys, but it violates a host of state and local regulations concerning recruiting, residency, and eligibility. Miami-Dade school officials have known about it for years, have even documented transgressions arising from it, and yet they have continued to allow Gachelin's operation
to churn out accomplished football players, all of whom attend Jackson.
Changing schools in order to play sports is so common in Miami that even devoted fans struggle to keep up with mutating team rosters. For example, Ronnie Jones, this year's starting quarterback at Jackson, is a transfer student from Northwestern. Northwestern's own starting quarterback is a transfer student from Miami Springs. Miami Central High's quarterback was the starter last year at Northwestern. A young fellow named Pierre Devoe is listed on Northwestern's varsity roster, provided by the school in response to a public-records request. Yet according to school district records, he actually attends Central.
Prior to the start of this year's season, the top three offensive stars at Miami Springs High moved to either Northwestern or Central. "If they would have stayed, we would be undefeated," grumbles Buddy Goins, Miami Springs's head coach. Instead the team finished the season 2-8.
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.
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.
Ten different Northwestern players provided the school district with addresses that differ from those on their driver licenses. An additional eleven provided addresses outside Northwestern's boundaries. Athletic director Gregory Killings did not respond to queries seeking an explanation as to how those eleven football players could be enrolled at Northwestern.
"Look at that penetration! Isn't that beautiful? I tell you, that is football!" shouts Frank Gachelin as he leads his Jackson players through a film session the morning of the Soul Bowl, in early November. He is in the living room of his home on NW Tenth Avenue and 75th Street, watching videos on a big-screen television. "That is what football is all about. We control the line of scrimmage, we win the game."
He is speaking to seven very large young men, all of whom say they live at this address. Although the house is located close enough to Northwestern that the rival school can be seen from the front yard, all the students attend and play for Jackson. "It's all about heart, about how bad you want it," Gachelin chants. "We have size, speed, and strength over Northwestern. That's how we'll beat them tonight."
The video is an old NFL propaganda film called Magnificent Elevens, a "crunch course" in great defensive teams of the past. Gachelin's big screen showcases Art Donovan, Gino Marchetti, and other former Baltimore Colts. "See how you play the run?" he asks, pointing at Jackson senior defensive end Quincy Brown. "If you know it's a run, you cannot go upfield." Brown, resting his stockinged feet on a coffee table, nods silently. Gachelin rewinds to show the play again. "Now watch this again," he says. "Wait to watch what the man does. This is going to happen to you tonight. I guarantee you'll see that play at least three times tonight. I guarantee."
Three players squeeze onto a green-leather couch. Sophomore linebacker Elvis Dumervil swivels in an old office chair. Dave Bernard, known as Little Sapp for his resemblance to former University of Miami linebacker Warren Sapp, lounges behind the coffee table, which is littered with football recruiting brochures from the University of Maryland and Boston College. All stare silently at the screen. No one talks. No one smiles.
"Look at that sack!" roars Gachelin as Art Donovan throws down a quarterback. Gachelin hits the rewind button. "Watch it again, Quincy, watch it again. He tilted like he was going to go inside but he goes outside. Did you see that, Quincy? I want to see that play tonight. That exact play."
Gachelin is a 39-year-old former Marine whose family hails from Haiti. He is compact and athletic looking in green shorts and a gray T-shirt featuring the Jackson Generals logo. He describes himself as a volunteer coach of the school's football team. And though he says he isn't paid a penny by the school, since 1997 the training of Jackson's best athletes has been his full-time occupation.
A rush by Gino Marchetti catches his eyes. He rewinds the tape so defensive tackle Tirolia Brechenair can study the play again. "I want to see that tonight, Tirolia," he says excitedly. "Hey, you get $50 if I see that play. You do that play for me one, no two times, and you get $50. I promise you."
Gachelin delivers this comment in the presence of a New Times reporter he has invited into the house to witness the film session. If he is aware that FHSAA rules prohibit giving a student athlete anything of value, much less cash, he acts unconcerned. Maybe that's because a cash handout would be among the least of his violations.
"I think of this as a boarding school," he says when the tape ends and his players scurry into the kitchen for a breakfast of oatmeal and bananas. "The whole defensive line lives here in a [guest cottage]. I've also got a couple of rooms in the main house, so there are five rooms altogether arranged for the guys. This is a place where we can train them, keep them out of trouble, and coach them away from school [after regular team practices have concluded]."
A tour of his operation commences at a large outdoor gymnasium located beside the main house, covered by an aluminum awning. His hand glides over a metal bar, part of a jungle of weight benches, pulldown machines, Smith squat machines, and rows of dumbbells in seriously high poundage. Beyond the benches red lights blink on a StairMaster machine. A chart taped to an outdoor wall lists some of the players who worked out here over the summer: James, Kool, Nappo, and Dave, and three Jackson players who graduated last year: his son Louis Gachelin, Curry Burns, and Carl Pierre. (All three are attending Division I colleges on football scholarships.) Each player's goals are posted. Louis Gachelin, for example, aimed to bench-press 405 pounds ten times and squat 500 pounds fifteen times -- extraordinarily ambitious targets. A nearby calendar breaks down the workout schedule by date: 28: Legs, Pool; 29: Back; 30: Chest; 1: Legs, Biceps and Stairs; 2: Basketball. "We mix it up," Gachelin explains. "There is no point in getting big and strong if you can't run."
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.
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."
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."
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."
There is little question that Gachelin's training program is good for the kids lucky enough to part of it. "He's the best thing that ever happened to me," James Dumervil says of Gachelin. The star player and his brother have been involved with Gachelin since they were toddlers. "I owe him everything. Without him I would be nothing."
"He's like a, how do you say it, like a mentor," adds Rosalie Thanis of the relationship between Gachelin and her son Napoleon. "He has been very positive in my son's life. He's raised his self-esteem quite a bit. And his grades have improved a lot, from a 1.3 to a 2.3."
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Thanis says she and Gachelin attend Tabernacle Church on 76th Street and NE Second Avenue, and that Gachelin has known Napoleon for most of the boy's life. "Frank is a charmer," she says. "He told me he wanted Napoleon to be with other boys. [Napoleon] lives over there during the week, and he lives with me on the weekends." Thanis owns a house outside the attendance boundaries of both Jackson and Northwestern, and she remains her son's legal guardian.
According to school-district records, Napoleon lives full-time at the Gachelin compound near Northwestern High School. Gachelin bought the property a year ago. "I moved from Opa-locka because [the principal and athletic director at Hialeah-Miami Lakes] were giving me heat about still living in the Hialeah-Miami Lakes district," he says. Parents in his Northwestern neighborhood call him a traitor for feeding his players to Jackson. Little kids walk by the compound with their pinkies and index fingers extended in the sign of the Northwestern Bulls.
"If the school system says, 'You know, Mr. Gachelin, you have to send your kids to Northwestern,' I will move," he asserts emphatically. "I will find another place by Jackson. I will take my whole operation somewhere else, into the inner city. Because I have to. I refuse to go to Northwestern."
Both Jackson and Northwestern lost in the first round of this year's state championship playoffs, falling last week in major upsets to Columbus and Miami Southridge High respectively. Almost as soon as the Generals lost, Gachelin began preparing for next season. At a public auction he purchased yet more weightlifting equipment, including four additional expensive StairMaster machines. And with James Dumervil and the other seniors about to graduate to the college game, he's keeping his eyes peeled for a few new lucky recruits. "Once we get a player into college, we replace them in the operation," Gachelin says. "As their bed is empty, believe me, it's filled as soon as he is gone. Last year we had a different crop of players. Next year we'll have a whole other different crop. They are all going to be big stars."