BRADENTON -- Manatee High School varsity baseball coach Dwayne Strong was the beneficiary of a huge show of support at Monday night's school board meeting as the School District of Manatee County continues to investigate reports of wrongdoing in the baseball program.
Details of the investigation have not been revealed hby the district because the investigation is ongoing, spokesman Steve Valley said Monday.
"I can confirm that the district's Office of Professional Standards initiated an investigation into alleged violations against school board policies and procedures by the Manatee High School baseball program," Valley said. "The investigation was started after the OPS received information from a person affiliated with Manatee High School."
Valley confirmed Strong is not allowed to coach or interact with the MHS baseball team, represent MHS in any capacity as a coach or interact with any MHS booster organization during the investigation.
Supporters addressed reports that Strong had implemented a so-called "pay-to-play" system at Manatee High involving Strong's business, a baseball facility called The Sandlot @ 5-Tools Baseball at 801 Seventh Ave. W. and Strong's position as the Hurricanes' head coach for the past six years.
Melissa Ely, whose son Jordon, 15, is a Manatee High baseball player, was among 20 backers who came to the school board to support Strong. A dozen spoke on his behalf during public comment.
"I have known Dwayne for 12 years and what I have seen is a kind man with zero interest in furthering his own causes," Ely said. "All he cares about is the boys."
The board heard emotional stories about Strong's character from Darian Oliver, Pete Souris, Leno Diaz and Jill Rocklein among others.
No one spoke out against the coach.
"I absolutely do not believe Coach Strong made players pay," Souris, father of graduated MHS baseball player Tyler Souris, told the school board. "There was no pay to play."
Julie McKinzie, parent of a former Strong player, told school board members: "Coach Strong offers his facility, The Sandlot @ 5 Tools, to all of his Manatee players. He does not charge his players nor has he ever charged any of his players to go there. It is not mandatory to go to his facility in order to be guaranteed a spot on the baseball team.
"Any money raised by parents and players for this program stays in the program, not in Coach Strong's pocket," McKinzie added. "We have a Booster Club with a treasurer who is a banker and a well-known accountant in this community. There is no mishandling of money."
In an Oct. 3 memo to MHS Principal Don Sauer, however, Mary Murray, district executive director of high school management, instructed Sauer to "freeze all MHS baseball program funds and accounts."
Murray also instructed Manatee High to "suspend all interactions between Mr. Strong and the MHS baseball program."
The Florida High School Athletic Association's position on Strong's ownership of a baseball facility while coaching baseball, and whether any rules were broken, can't be discussed since the investigation is just beginning, FHSAA spokesman Corey Sobers said.
Sobers confirmed Murray's suggestions to contact the FHSAA and self-report the investigation were carried out by the school.
"An investigation has begun involving Manatee High School," Sobers said.
The Bradenton Police Department has no case file on the matter, Chief Michael Radzilowski said Monday.
"No one has called us," Radzilowski said.
Richard Dymond, Herald reporter, can be reached at 941-745-7072 or contact him via Twitter @RichardDymond.