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High School Eligibility Workshop Set for Monday

The Escambia County School District is hosting a workshop with the Florida High School Athletic Association on Monday, to conduct training on athletic eligibility rules for middle and high school students.

It all started with an investigation into possible recruiting violations involving Escambia High School Head Football Coach Willie Spears and six players, four seniors and two juniors, who transferred to Escambia earlier this year. Spears was ordered to hold them out of the Gators’ season opener against Vidor, Texas, but all six played in the game. Superintendent Malcolm Thomas called Spears to task at an Escambia County School Board meeting last month.

“I told you (Spears) I thought there would be some recruiting violations,” said Thomas. “You didn’t understand them then, (and) I’m not sure you understand them now.”

Spears was suspended with pay, and Thomas recommended to the School Board that the coach be terminated for insubordination. Spears put up an emotional plea to keep his job.

“Mahatma Gandhi said ‘In order to forgive, you can’t be weak,’” said Spears. “Forgiveness is an attribute of strong. I’m asking for forgiveness, because I need it. I’m asking you to have grace and mercy on me.”

Willie Spears was fired on a 3-2 vote by the Board. This past week, the two junior Gator players, Joey Everette and J.J. Hamilton, were reinstated by an FHSAA appeals committee. Seniors Terik Miller, James Ellis, James Mayberry and Joe Roberson were denied, but can appeal again next month.

Superintendent Malcolm Thomas says eligibility and compliance experts from the association will hold the workshop Monday at Washington High School. The focus of the presentation is to help parents and students understand how they can protect their eligibility, and not be placed into a position where it would be questioned or taken away.

Thomas says the Escambia High episode already has provided a clearer picture.

“People are looking at the rules harder, then they’ve probably looked at them in many, many years,” Thomas said. “What we’re trying to do is to provide that education piece. Not only the staff, but in the case of this workshop to reach out and get it into the community to the students who may feel the greatest impact if that eligibility’s ever taken away.”

As for the six Escambia football players, Thomas was asked if they could face additional issues regarding eligibility, for sports whose seasons begin later in the school year. He said that it depends on the individual students and their specific cases.

A district-wide committee already has been instituted, to evaluate every student who transfers after they’re enrolled in high school – whether the reason be athletic, academic or a residency issue.

Once again, the meeting is set for 5:30 p.m. Monday at Washington High School’s Theodore Bennett Auditorium.