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School Penalized for Allowing Student on Football Team

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A high school in central Florida has been ordered to forfeit two football games because officials allowed an out-of-district special-education student who had been assigned to the school to play on the team.

The Florida High School Activities Association penalized Lake Brantley High School in Altamonte Springs for allegedly violating association rules designed to prevent recruiting violations, even though the youth had not played a single down in a game at the time of the ruling.

The student, who lives outside the district's boundaries, was assigned to the school because of its program for the emotionally handicapped.

As a result of the association's ruling, "they have rendered this particular athlete school-less," said Bob Peterson, the athletic director at Lake Brantley High School. "He is not a bona-fide student elsewhere."

Another member of the Lake Brantley High School football team was scheduled to appear in state court late last week to seek an injunction against the association ruling.

The Patriots, which would have had an 8-1 record, are in jeopardy of losing a playoff berth if the court challenge by the student, David Sprinkle, is unsuccessful.

Initial local newspaper and television accounts portrayed the decision to add the unidentified special-education student to the roster as a means of building his self-esteem.

Now, however, school officials emphasize that the youth was fully eligible to participate in the sport but that his inexperience, not his competence, had held him back.

The student played in his first varsity game on Nov. 8, after the association's decision.

The association argues that the high school violated F.B .S.A.A. rules by putting the senior on the team without seeking a waiver, a requirement designed to prevent illegal recruiting.

Until this year, the youth had lived in the district that encompasses Lake Brantley. When his family moved a block outside the district, the school board decided to keep him at Lake Brantley because his new school had no program for the emotionally handicapped, according to Mr. Peterson.

No 'Secret Weapon'

In any case, Mr. Peterson said, the high school had met association bylaws that recognize the eligibility of students who attend a different school if a new bus route has been established.

Because the youth qualified under the bus-route criterion, he said, to force the school to get a waiver would discriminate against the youth on the basis of his exceptionality, a violation of both state and federal regulations.

"There is no effort to recruit someone who is going to be a secret weapon or 'ringer,'" Mr. Peterson said. "The principle here ... is a young man has been denied his normal access to this activity."

Ronald N. Davis, the commissioner of the association, responded, however, that, "generally speaking, the principals know what the rules are, and they get the waiver."

"Basically," he added, "we're looking at a situation that was an oversight."

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