Miami Circuit Judge David Tobin overrides FHSAA Commissioner, says ineligible Berkshire teams can play in FHSAA State Series

GAINESVILLE – Circuit Judge David Tobin has issued an order preventing the Florida High School Activities Association from banning Berkshire School's ineligible girls and boys basketball teams from further participation in the 2000 FHSAA State Basketball Series.

The FHSAA believes that his ruling is contrary to the statutory authority of the Association to govern interscholastic athletics in the state of Florida.

After a thorough investigation, Commissioner Robert W. Hughes found that Berkshire School was guilty of athletic recruiting and on Wednesday declared the school's girls and boys basketball teams ineligible for further participation in the state playoffs. Hughes determined that 12 student-athletes – eight boys and four girls – were recruited to play basketball for the school. Berkshire is a private boarding school in Homestead.

Tobin's order, issued Thursday afternoon, Feb. 17, means that the FHSAA must allow Berkshire's boys basketball team to play in the Class A District 16 tournament semifinals tonight at Archbishop Carroll High School in Miami.

Tobin is a circuit judge in the state's Eleventh Judicial Circuit in and for Miami-Dade County.

"Judge Tobin conducted a brief hearing that was held with less than two hours notice to the FHSAA and made his ruling," Hughes said. "Apparently he overlooked the fact that member schools made allegations against Berkshire and that the FHSAA spent weeks conducting an indepth investigation into those allegations before I found them guilty of rules violations.

"Berkshire was found to have eight ineligible players on its boys team and four ineligible players on its girls team. These are students who were brought to that school for the express purpose of playing basketball and winning state championship trophies at the expense of, and without regard for, every other school in Berkshire's classification."

Hughes continued, "Judge Tobin apparently overlooked or misunderstood the law as well. It says that the FHSAA is the governing body for interscholastic athletics in this state. According to the Association's bylaws, I have the authority to take the action I have taken."

Florida Statute 232.63 states: "The Florida High School Activities Association is designated as the governing nonprofit organization of athletics in Florida public schools . . . A nonpublic school that wishes to engage in high school athletic competition with a public school may become a member of the organization. The bylaws of the organization are to be the rules by which high school athletic programs in its member schools, and the students who participate in them, are governed, unless otherwise specifically provided by statute."

The lawsuit, which was filed on behalf of four players and Berkshire School by attorney William K. Terry Jr., alleges no wrongful act on the part of the FHSAA. It, however, alleges that the FHSAA's action imposed a sanction that would inflict irreparable injury upon his clients. That injury, the lawsuit says, was "the loss of the chance to compete through the boys' and girls' respective end-of-season tournaments with its attending consequences involving exposure to college recruiters and the like."

Said Hughes: "Judge Tobin's order will have a very detrimental effect on every other school in Class A and to the players in those schools, who, by the way, ARE eligible. The first schools to suffer the effects of his order will be other schools in Miami-Dade County. They now will be forced to play, and probably lose, to Berkshire in the playoffs. When those schools are beaten by Berkshire's ineligible teams, they will have suffered true irreparable injury at the hands of Berkshire. For them, there will be no reprieve, no reversal, no stay. Once you're beaten your beaten."

The FHSAA has requested a hearing on the merits of the ruling as soon as possible. It is expected to take place next week.

Jack Watford
Director of Communications, FHSAA
(352) 372-9551 ext. 170
jwatford [at] fhsaa [dot] org