Miramar High School parents, athletes and coaches rallied Thursday morning in front of the Broward County School Board building to protest the decision to vacate the Patriots’ spot in the Class8A football playoffs.
It was to no avail.
On Thursday afternoon — following a meeting with the school board at Miramar High — it was officially announced that the Patriots will be ineligible to defend their state championship after self-reporting that players received impermissible benefits.
A stunned Miramar interim football coach A.J. Scott bolted from his chair in the auditorium after Damian Huttenhoff, director of athletics for the school board, delivered the bad news.
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“Why are you punishing these kids? These kids did nothing wrong, and you are believing a con man,” said Scott, referring to former coach Matt Strout, who was forced to resign Oct.21 following Miramar’s district loss to Flanagan.
“I feel bad for these seniors that have worked so hard to defend their title. They deserve to take the field [Friday] night.”
That will not be the case, however. Monarch High, Miramar’s scheduled opponent, will receive a first-round bye.
Huttenhoff said that aside from the impermissible benefits, there were also still open issues surrounding the academic integrity of students’ transcripts.
“I want to be as direct with you as I can,” he said. “I regret to have to be here under these circumstances, but we must conduct our investigation, and this is part of the process.
“We have reliable evidence and facts that have been substantiated that institutional weaknesses have been discovered. We are not law enforcement, but they will be involved in the investigation.”
How trouble began
The turmoil began shortly after Strout — who was promoted from offensive line coach to replace longtime head coach Damon Cogdell — was forced out last month. Strout claimed that senior wide receiver Jovon Durante and other players were academically ineligible. The team sat Durante the following game, and he returned for the Patriots’ regular-season finale.
Scott said Strout also contacted the FHSAA and told them that he paid players — including $1,000 to Durante — to transfer to Miramar, and that he paid players for “big hits and big plays.”
Scott, who was Strout’s defensive coordinator, disputed the claims and said Strout is trying to get back at Miramar.
“I can tell you that I never saw any money change hands, and I am always around these kids,” Scott said. “He never even stayed around after practice or after games. He was always the first one to leave.
“We do not have to pay kids to come play at Miramar. We don’t have to pay kids to perform. He said that if he was ever to be fired, he would make us all pay. This is what he did for getting fired.”
Durante, who transferred to Miramar from Miami Norland before the season, denied receiving money.
“I do not know why coach Strout would make those things up about me,” he said. “I never did anything to him. I thought we got along when he was here.”
Durante is one of five Miramar seniors who have given oral commitments to attend West Virginia, where Cogdell is currently serving as linebackers coach for his alma mater.
‘We will be back’
In a letter directed to Miramar’s football parents before Thursday’s decision, school principal Loli Formoso wrote:
“On October 30, 2014, Miramar High School self-reported impermissible benefits to the FHSAA. Based on additional allegations and upon further investigation, we will be vacating our seeding in the Florida High School Football State Championship. The matter continues to be under investigation by the school board police.”
Michelle Bernard, whose son Jordan is a senior running back at Miramar, is concerned that the punishment was levied before the investigation was complete.
“What I don’t understand is why these kids, especially the seniors, are losing a right to play [Friday] night when the jury is still out,” she said. “It is like they are being convicted of a crime without even going to trial.”
There was concern that Miramar’s football program could have been suspended for additional seasons, but Huttenhoff said that would not be the case.
“Our discussions with the FHSAA did not include penalties for any other seasons,” he said. “We will have a football program at Miramar next year.”
Scott was partially relieved that the Patriots will play next season.
“Small victory, I guess. We will be back.”