The Rock Hit Hard by FHSAA Sanctions
It's been a tough day for The Rock school following sanctions given by the Florida high school athletics association -- putting that school's athletic program on two years probation & forbidding the Lions from competing for state championships for this school year because of a violation by The Rock's International missions scholarship.
Â It was a fruitful last school year for the Lions -- reaching the class-A state championship game led by Vytis Sulskis from Lithuania who's now playing college basketball on scholarship for Youngstown state. The Rock has since done away with its International missions program.
Â Officials from the school did not want to comment to us on camera. Instead, school principal bob carter releasing this statement.
The Rock School began accepting international students in 2004. Since that time, over 40 international students, representing 16 countries and five different continents have enrolled. Of these 40 students, only 14 participated in interscholastic athletics. Presently, there are 24 international students enrolled in The Rock School, and only 9 will be participating in athletics this year (soccer, girls' basketball, boys' basketball). It has been the vision of The Rock of Gainesville, as a church family, to open our homes to international students to attend The Rock School each year. Our International Missions Scholarship program was established to assist international students who wanted to attend The Rock School and be a part of our church family. The scholarship was awarded based on a student's status as international and was awarded regardless of participation in any athletic program. There were some misinterpretations of FHSAA bylaws regarding financial assistance programs and host family arrangements for which we have been cited. When the latest policy revisions were published in the 2007-2008 FHSAA Handbook, we were proactive in correcting these administrative errors prior to any communication of violations by the FHSAA office.
The Rock School received a letter citing possible violations from Commissioner Stewart on August 20, 2007, following a compliance audit that we were randomly selected for in April 2007. A synopsis of our response to the two specific violations is provided here:
While we would like to explain the rationale behind our decisions, we humbly acknowledge that we now understand we were in violation and do not dispute these facts.
1. Violation of 2006-2007 FHSAA Handbook, Policy 38, Section E â€“ Financial Assistance Programs #5, which states "A school that provides financial assistance to a student-athlete based on any criteria other than need must:The Rock School allowed international student-athletes to attend the school without paying tuition and did not give the Association notice or right to deny.
(a) Denote on the Annual Eligibility List that the student-athlete is receiving such financial assistance; and
(b) Must submit in writing the student's name, the amount of financial assistance and the source of the funds from which the financial assistance is derived at the time the student's name is submitted to the FHSAA Office on the Annual Eligibility List or anytime such assistance is subsequently provided. If the source of the funds is a private donation earmarked specifically for the student-athlete, the name of the donor must also be provided.
(c) Financial assistance based even partially on athletic interest, potential or performance is not permitted from the school or any individual or group associated with the school's athletic interest.
Our International Missions Scholarship program was based solely on a student's status as an international student, and because the scholarship was neither need-based nor awarded based on athletics, we did not believe it to be in violation. We have students and student-athletes alike attending our school each year as part of this program. However, upon closer review of the policy, we recognize that we did have an obligation to report our International Missions program to the FHSAA office and allow the Association the right to deny. In an effort to comply with the FHSAA, we have eliminated our International Missions Scholarship for student-athletes. We now require all international student-athletes to complete a financial aid application through the Federal Family Needs Assessment, an FHSAA-approved agency. We have used the services of the FFNA for many years to process the financial aid applications for all of our regular student-athletes. We now utilize this agency for every student-athlete who receives any financial assistance whatsoever. These reports are kept on file in the school office.
2. Violation of 2006-2007 Handbook, Policy 18, Section B, #9, which states, "The international student must not reside with a coach or other individual associated with the school's athletic program." The Rock School allowed international students to reside with families associated with the athletic program.
During a Sunday service, an announcement was made asking if there were any families in the church that would be interested in hosting an international student for the coming year. Among those who volunteered were two families. One family had a spouse that works as the school's secretary. When we reviewed the cited policy in the Handbook, we did not believe that her role as the school secretary qualified as an individual "associated with the athletic program." It was during the initial audit that Mr. Williamson (FHSAA auditor) explained that as a school employee, even a secretary, she is considered a part of the athletic program. At the time that the other church family volunteered to be a host family, they had no children registered to participate in any sports. It was later in the fall that their eighth grade son decided to join the soccer team. At this point, an international student was already placed in the family's home. It was simply an administrative oversight that no one recognized that their son's change in status from student to student-athlete now disqualified his family from serving as a host family. It was not until the audit that we became aware of what had happened.
This explanation is not intended as an excuse. We fully understand that it is our responsibility to carefully monitor such matters and to contact the FHSAA office when there are uncertainties. We only share this information to illustrate that we did not knowingly and willfully violate the policies of the Association. Again, even prior to the letter we received from the FHSAA office noting any possible violations, we had already implemented changes based upon the clarifications provided in the 2007-2008 Handbook and the information shared at the FHSAA workshop at the end of July. This clarification specifically defines who may not serve as a host family. Our school families and church members are permitted to host international students as long as they are not a part of the coaching staff, a school employee, or the parent of a student-athlete at our school.
We would humbly submit that we are not a school that would willfully violate the rules or attempt to deceive the Association. In our eleven years of membership in the FHSAA, this is our only violation. The overall report from our initial audit clearly indicates that we faithfully and diligently make every effort to comply with the policies of the Association.
We are certainly disappointed with the heavy sanctions we have received. However, we will learn from our mistakes and move forward. With the corrective measures we implemented this summer, we are now in compliance with all FHSAA policies. We will continue with our athletic schedules this year, but will not participate in the state series in 2007-2008.
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