The Lacrosse teams at Flagler Palm Coast High School, like other teams, has been recognized under the Florida High School Athletic Association since 2008. The association strictly regulates high school sports down to when, where and how students practice and play. Infractions incur penalties ranging from fines to bans from competition.
Last year, most of FPC lacrosse students played on two teams: the school’s team, which had to follow FHSAA rules, and a club team, which did not. The club team could practice and play games out of season as long as it raised its own money and kept its accounts separate. The club team also was prohibited from wearing FPC colors or names.
Ryan Andrews is the lacrosse coach at FPC, for both teams. He organized club team activities, including the $150 fee charged each student who’d be part of the club team. Andrews was severely reprimanded by FPC Principal Jacob Oliva in a written Dec. 17 letter of reprimand that outlines Ryan’s failure to follow policies. “You are directed to cease such conduct immediately,” the letter reads, “and to adhere to the policies and procedures pertaining to internal funds. If this type of behavior continues, it will be recommended that further disciplinary action be sought after including possible suspension and/or even termination.”
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That money was going into the same account as the high school’s athletic team account, which is, in fact, the FPC athletic department’s account (with a numeral designation for each sport). And the club team was wearing FPC’s insignia.
Donna Raposa, a parent whose son was on both teams, reported the matter after her son was removed from the club team, and she asked for a refund. “I found out in an oddball way,” Raposa said of the discovery of improprieties. “This is not just a lacrosse issue. This is across the board.” She stressed: “The children didn’t do anything wrong.” But the fine was reflecting badly on the school and, ultimately, and unfairly, on the students.
Raposa raised the matter of financial improprieties assiduously, through documented emails, phone calls and meetings with school and district officials. Along the way, she also noted that of about $5,000 paid into the account by parents at one point, only half had made it. The other half appeared in the account only when she raised the issue of the missing money, Raposa said. The questions and the meetings led the high school athletic department, headed by Steve DeAugustino, to correct the improprieties and report them to the Florida High School Athletic Association.
It also led the Flagler County School Board to adopt a new policy on athletic teams and booster clubs: each team is now required to have its own separate booster club, and to keep fund-raising money separate from school revenue.
“Because the high school acted immediately,” says Kristy Gavin, the Flagler County School Board’s attorney, “the fine that we received was the minimum fine they could asses.”
FPC–not the lacrosse team–was fined $2,500. FPC was also reprimanded with an official letter of censure from the FHSAA, and the FPC boys lacrosse program was placed on administrative probation until June 2012, “the least severe of probation that may be issued by this office,” the FHSAA wrote FPC Principal Jacob Oliva.
“The fine could have been $10,000, when I added it all up,” DeAugustino said, referring to a potential $250 fine per student that the association could have levied. There are more than 40 students involved. “But because of the actions that the school took, we got fined the minimum.” In more serious circumstances, the team could have been booted out of state competition for up to three years, or been forced to forfeit games.
In an email to Flagler High School Principal Jacob Oliva sent last month, Raposa raised another issue: she claimed the fine “was then taken out of the lacrosse fundraising account – the money raised by parents for their children, not to bail the Athletic Department out of trouble for their wrongdoing.”
Gavin said the athletic department was not in the wrong. Rather, one of its coaches was operating outside the authority of the department, which corrected the matter once it was brought to light. Gavin was unaware of the fine being paid out of the lacrosse team’s account.
“We haven’t paid anything yet,” DeAugustino said, and there is no money in the lacrosse team’s account for that fine to be paid out of it.
Raposa, however, who attended the lacrosse team’s end-of-year banquet two weeks ago, said parents were told then that the fine had been paid, though it wasn’t clear out of what account.
On Tuesday (May 10), Anita Bertha, president of the lacrosse team’s booster club, which was established this year, clarified: the booster club ran a booth at the races in Daytona Beach–a booth that the FPC boys’ team has had at the races as a fund-raising arm. The club expects a $3,400 check from fund-raising there. It will then donate $2,500 to the school to cover the cost of the fine.
Bertha said the boys on the team should not be penalized for the athletic department’s mistake. “Ultimately,” she said, “it falls on the athletic director.” But the club agreed to donate the money to ensure that the team goes on. In essence, the booster club is covering the cost of an infraction committed by the school.
The fine is due by July. DeAugustino said paying it out of the lacrosse team’s account—if there was money in it—would not be inappropriate, since that account is not just fund-raising by parents, but gate receipts and other revenue generated by the athletic department, that the department lets teams use at their discretion. But that’s not what’s taking place.
The athletic department has never faced a fine in the four years DeAugustino has been at its helm, DeAugustino said—other than small fines players incur on the field for foul play, such as an automatic fine charged a player who commits a particularly grave foul in soccer, for example. The department is at the end of its various seasons, its funds largely depleted for having “covered everything,” DeAugustino said. “We’re going to have to pay it somehow,” he said of the $2,500.
Raposa’s son has been playing lacrosse for three years. He was on the school’s team and on the club team. Last October, during a club-team tournament at Matanzas, Raposa’s son walked off the field after a brawl, in which she says he was not involved. The brawl was triggered after another player’s injury led to mouthing off by players, then by parents. Parents got involved in the brawl as well, which turned ugly. Both teams on the field that day, incidentally, were kicked out of the tournament. Seeing that, Raposa decided to pull her son out of the club team and get a refund, which eventually led to her uncovering the inconsistencies in the accounts.
Her son was also booted out of the lacrosse team in January, after he showed up on the first day of practice without some of his equipment. But he subsequently made the team the next day, stayed on the team all year and, according to Raposa, “had a great year.”