Manatee High athletics fined $13,330 by FHSAA

jlembo@bradenton.comMarch 1, 2014 


GRANT JEFFERIES/ Manatee High School head coach Dwayne Strong talks with his team before practice Monday at G.T. Bray Park.


CLARIFICATION: Joe Kinnan, then Manatee High's athletic director, says he did not trigger the district's investigation into the school's baseball program. His quote in this report did not make that clear. In recalling a conversation with principal Don Sauer, Kinnan told the Herald he stated: "We need to alert the district and FHSAA about a potential problem." He was referring only to Manatee reporting itself to the Florida High School Athletic Association.

BRADENTON -- The Florida High School Athletic Association has fined Manatee High's athletic department $13,300 for indiscretions involving the school's baseball team.

Had school officials not self-reported the violations, however, the penalties could have been far more severe.

The report said 19 students were in violation for participating in various camps and clinics. The penalty is typically a minimum of $2,500 per violation per athlete, which would have resulted in Manatee paying a record $332,500 fine.

Because of the self-reporting, as well as corrective actions carried out by Manatee, the school was only charged $100 per violation per athlete, resulting in the $13,300 fine.

The FHSAA has put Manatee's athletic program on administrative probation ending June 1, 2015, and the baseball program on administrative probation ending June 1, 2016.

"This is the least severe of probations that may be issued by this office," read the report, which was written by Roger Dearing, the association's executive director and the former superintendent of the School District of Manatee.

Half of the fine -- $6,650 -- will be held in abeyance for a calendar year as long Manatee doesn't commit any further infractions. Manatee has 10 days to appeal the ruling.

The FHSAA "identified violations occurred consistently for several years," the report read.

According to the report, the baseball team violated association bylaws by participating in offseason practice -- between June and December -- at the Sandlot@5Tools, a downtown Bradenton baseball facility owned by former Hurricanes baseball coach Dwayne Strong. The association also found Strong in violation by making attendance of offseason and summer camps and clinics mandatory for playing varsity and JV baseball at Manatee, and the school for allowing auxiliary organizations to fund a camp, clinic or workshop.

"At no time was any taxpayer or school district money ever provided for the baseball program," said Manatee football coach Joe Kinnan, who was the school's athletic director when the infractions took place before announcing in December he was resigning from the position. "It also never came out of gate receipts. All the fees were paid with money raised by the baseball booster group; strictly money that businesses and people involved with baseball raised to improve the baseball program.

"I think the violation is based on the FHSAA's assumption that 5Tools is a team coaching school and not a coaching school for individuals ... It's not a baseball field where they're practicing as a team."

According to the report, Manatee officials compared baseball players working out at 5Tools to members of a school's golf team practicing at a driving range.

"This office maintains that instruction was provided in some manner while the students were participating in activities located at Sandlot@5Tools," the report reads. "Additionally, if this matter was comparable to that of students using a driving range, it should have been available to any and all students who attend MHS, and not just the baseball players."

Strong stepped down as the school's baseball coach and as a parent liaison Oct. 31. He did not return a call seeking comment Friday night.

Kinnan said most of the problems stemmed from Strong's not registering a team comprised of Manatee players before allowing it to compete in an offseason tournament affiliated with an organization called Nation's Baseball. Had Strong registered the team, Kinnan said, Manatee would have not been in violation of one or more of the bylaws.

Kinnan also said he didn't believe Strong intended to pressure any players or their parents to attend offseason camps in order to play. He believes it was a miscommunication between Strong and some parents, and of the 39 players at Manatee who played baseball at the JV or varsity level last season, 19 attended the camps and clinics.

"Less than half of the members of the teams were comprised of students of these camps," Kinnan said. "Because of Dwayne Strong's statements (according to assistant coaches interviewed by district investigator Troy Pumphrey), it's a violation.

"Dwayne is not an evil person. Dwayne cares about kids."

The FHSAA also found Manatee violated three bylaws by determining the school was "afforded an impermissible benefit by having fees funded by MHS prior to the student having established residence at the school."

Kinnan said he received a letter from a parent of a JV baseball and football player regarding the baseball team in early October. He went to Don Sauer, the school's principal, the following day.

Sauer did return calls seeking comment Friday.

"I said, 'We have a potential problem,' " Kinnan said. " 'We need to alert the district and FHSAA about potential violations.' "

Kinnan, who said he was a part-time athletic director with a stipend of less than $5,000, said there was never any intentional wrongdoing committed by the athletic program.

"We're happy the FHSAA closed the chapter. We move on," he said. "We know where there are problems now, and it's unfortunate. We always tried to do the right thing."

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