The Manatee County School District dished out a severe penalty to Southeast High’s football team for the scuffle following the Seminoles’ 24-21 loss at Wauchula Hardee on Friday night.
Six players must serve a four-week suspension from extracurricular school activities, according to a news release from the district Tuesday.
The players, whose names were not included in the news release, won’t be eligible to return until the third round of the playoffs during Thanksgiving week — if the Noles advance that far into the postseason.
Southeast currently occupies the last wild-card berth into the Class 5A-Region 3 playoffs with games against district rival Sarasota Booker and Harmony remaining in the regular season.
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“The conduct that occurred following the game between Southeast High and Hardee High is unacceptable and not reflective of the standards expected of representatives of the School District of Manatee County,” Manatee County district supervisor of athletics Jason Montgomery said in a news release. “It is a privilege and an honor to represent your school and our school district and we expect our student athletes to act in accordance with that privilege.”
Montgomery told the Bradenton Herald that he met with Hardee athletic director Travis Tubbs and the Hardee administration to discuss what they saw and what the Manatee school district saw through video evidence posted on social media, team videos and elsewhere.
The investigation began after the game – an altercation took place during the postgame handshake line – and continued through Tuesday’s announcement.
“It comes down to those are the six kids we identified that actively participated from Southeast,” Montgomery said. “Now it’s Hardee’s responsibility to take care of their own kids.”
Following Tuesday’s practice at the school, Southeast head coach Rashad West said it was a culmination of events that caused the altercation.
“It was kind of a toxic environment that evening with the game unfolded and our kids were upset, and we’ve got to do a better job of handling that adversity and not to get too emotional,” West said.
The marked the second incident in three years involving a Manatee County program. In 2015, Braden River’s eventual march to a state semifinal appearance took a slight knock when the Pirates were involved in a postgame melee at North Port High near the locker rooms after the Pirates’ victory.
No names were released then and the suspension length of four weeks was the same as what was levied against Southeast on Tuesday.
“We try to teach our kids how to respond when a situation gets like that,” Montgomery said.
What caused Friday’s postgame altercation is not known, though Montgomery said he commended both coaching staffs and administrations that were there to break up things quickly to prevent it from turning into something worse.
“There were some words being exchanged. A shove here and a shove there escalated,” Montgomery said. “... Then it became a situation we never want to see happen.”
Added West: “One thing we’ve talked to them about is you’re not free of consequence. ... When it’s handed out, you have to have some accountability, and that’s all we can do at this point.”
Tuesday’s suspensions did not include any from Hardee, which operates under a separate school district. Montgomery said he had not talked with Hardee administrators on Tuesday about their decision.
A phone message left for Hardee athletic director Travis Tubbs was not immediately returned.
In addition to the district’s suspension for the six unnamed players, the district’s findings are being forwarded to the Florida High School Athletic Association, the state’s governing body for high school sports. The FHSAA can take further action, if needed.
“Usually the FHSAA defaults to six weeks,” Montgomery said. “But then when the schools take corrective action, it’s usually appealed and then it’s usually knocked down to four. We went with what’s historically (been done).”
Montgomery said there are plenty of routes the FHSAA can go.
“We take a lot of pride in being proactive in these things,” Montgomery said. “We’ve been stressing sportsmanship in the last couple years in the county through our positive coaching alliance programs that we are doing and tons of other things. So anytime we have a situation like this, we take it very serious and try to do everything to ensure it doesn’t happen again.”
For Southeast, the Noles are moving forward without six players as they prepare for a crucial two-game stretch to end the regular season.
“We can’t lose that game twice,” said West referencing his team stuck on what transpired in Wauchula last Friday. “Meaning just think about it and let it fester all week and we go out and lay an egg this week. Just talking to them about turning the page and still care of what we’ve got in front of us. Can’t worry about it. It’s unfortunate. Let me deal with. You guys go out and play.”