There are quite a few things I miss since I left The Ledger about a 18 months ago.
I miss the people that I worked with in the newsroom and the people that I had the privilege to cover and interact with around the county. I miss the thrill of finishing a story on deadline or breaking a big news item and having it show up on the front page. I miss telling the stories of some of the incredible people who live in Polk County.
There are also things I don’t miss, and one of those is having to cover bad news. When a coach was fired or someone was suspended or arrested, I hated having to be the guy that tries to call them and “do my job.” It’s an unfortunate part of the business.
It’s safe to say I didn’t really miss being a reporter much during the 2011-12 high school sports year primarily because of all the bad news. Much of it revolved around coaches, as well. As much as I hate covering these stories, it was fascinating to see them unfold during the year.
So, here’s a timeline of some of the high-profile stories from the past year. Kudos to Solange Reyner and The Ledger staff for staying on top of these as much as they could.
- Summer 2011 – Victory Christian girls basketball coach Grady Morrell resigns and an assistant coach for Kathleen girls basketball is fired for their roles with club teams and/or recruiting. Morrell stepped down so that he could focus on his AAU Mustangs team and so that any girls transferring to Victory would retain eligibility. The Kathleen coach denied the recruiting allegations. Here’s the recap.
- September 15, 2011 – George Jenkins announces that it is parting ways with girls soccer coach Joe Lenard, one of the winningest coaches across all sports in the county. Diane Werrick, then the athletic director, said the move was in part because of Lenard’s connection to Lakeland FC, a club program in town. Some players had transferred to Jenkins that were involved in Lakeland FC, and apparently the school thought it best to avoid any more scrutiny. The club/AAU issues with high school sports is only going to intensify in my opinion, and I’m still afraid that high schools might end up losing the better coaches to club programs. The better athletes might choose to follow, and then we’re going to be left with diluted high school sports. Hopefully that doesn’t happen, but it’s something that bears watching. Here’s The Ledger’s story.
- September 30, 2011 – Lakeland is told it must forfeit its 2010 football season and pay a fine for using ineligible players. The discipline from the FHSAA comes on the heels of its investigation into three transfer players from Jenkins, including quarterback Jadrian Clark. All three players were ruled ineligible for the 2011 season and lost all appeals. The controversy sparked renewed allegations of recruiting against Lakeland, though the FHSAA never found that to be the case. It was a black eye for the program and coach Bill Castle, who ripped The Ledger and defended his program in this story. Ironically, the FHSAA also questioned the eligibility of a Jenkins player as a result of the investigation, though he was later cleared. Here’s a pretty thorough recap.
- December 1, 2011 – Kathleen girls basketball coach Greg White was suspended five games for allowing an ineligible player to compete in a tournament in Canada. Here’s The Ledger’s story.
- December 14, 2011 – George Jenkins football coach Matt Thompson is arrested on charges that he had sex with a 17-year-old student. It came in the aftermath of claims that bullying by Thompson was a contributing factor in the transfer of some of his top players to Lakeland High, which resulted in Lakeland forfeiting its 2010 season. Thompson later resigned in January. I added some more thoughts on this situation in a previous post, and you can see the original story from The Ledger here. Thompson’s legal case is still ongoing, with another pre-trial conference scheduled for May 29.
- March 26, 2012 – Lake Wales boys basketball coach Billy D. Washington, fresh off a state title with the Highlanders, is put on paid leave after a fight broke out in the school gymnasium that resulted in a female student being injured and a male student getting arrested. Washington was the only faculty member working in the gym at the time, and a subsequent investigation resulted in him resigning effective June 8. For a full recap, click here.
- April 12, 2012 – Another of the county’s most-successful coaches, Winter Haven baseball coach David Saliba, resigned his position with the school amid an investigation into financial issues within the program. According to the final report from the county, Saliba had “diverted” more than $20,000 of concession revenue into personal accounts. Saliba had been coach for 29 years and sent may kids to college or had them drafted. More details in this Polk Preps story.
I hope I didn’t miss anything, since that would mean there was even more controversy around the county that I missed. I also hope 2012-2013 is a much more positive year for the county, starting with the All Sports Awards banquet next month that honors the best of sports in the county from the past year.