By Jeff Odom
and Kyle LoJacono
The Steinbrenner boys soccer team must forfeit nine wins and two ties and give up the top seed in this week’s Class 4A-District 8 tournament, but avoids major sanctions after an internal investigation into using an ineligible player.
Florida High School Athletic Association (FHSAA) spokesman Corey Sobers said they were informed one of the Warriors’ players was living outside Steinbrenner’s district and had falsified information to gain admittance to the school.
“There was an allegation made and at that point our compliance department asked them to look into it,” Sobers said. “They did end up finding that there was an issue.”
The FHSAA ruled on Jan. 19 an ineligible player had been used in 12 contests this year. The Warriors had to forfeit all those games, one of which was already a loss, dropping their record from 11-2-2 to 2-13. The two victories the squad keeps came after the ineligible player was removed.
“Once an ineligible player plays in a game forfeiture is mandatory and automatic,” Sobers said.
The student was deemed ineligible Jan. 5 and was removed from the squad. He cannot participate in any FHSAA contests with any school for one year as a penalty for falsifying information.
The Laker/Lutz News has learned the player at the center of the investigation is Ryan Kennedy. The junior midfielder attended Martinez Middle in Lutz before moving to Steinbrenner when the school opened in 2009. He has been on the Warriors’ squad the last three seasons before his name was removed from their roster for their game against Plant on Jan. 6.
Steinbrenner junior forward Logan Siben said he attended Martinez with Kennedy from sixth through eighth grade. He said he knew Kennedy lived in Pasco County, but thought he was on special assignment.
“We did not recruit him by any means,” Siben said. “He’s gone to Hillsborough schools since sixth grade.”
Kennedy recently withdrew from Steinbrenner, and his Facebook page says he is now attending Mitchell High in Trinity. Kennedy declined to comment for this story.
Steinbrenner went 5-0 in 4A-8 play this year, but all of those games were before Jan. 5. Forfeiting the district contests dropped the Warriors from the top seed to No. 6.
Sobers said Steinbrenner is eligible for the postseason because the player has been removed from the team. Provided there are no additional ineligible players on the squad, the Warriors won’t have to worry about the any playoff appearance being vacated.
“The school wasn’t found to have any wrongdoing,” Sobers said. “The student falsified information. It’s not like the school was involved in helping him do it or recruited him.”
Sobers said Steinbrenner won’t have to forfeit any part of past seasons.
“It wouldn’t be a situation when you go back in time and punish someone last year and then punish them again this year going forward,” Sobers said.
Sobers said the school will receive no fines or probation because of the case and added the FHSAA is not performing any investigation into the program and the case is closed.
“I think the FHSAA made the right decision,” said Steinbrenner athletic director Eddie Henderson. “It was fair and just.”
The Warriors’ drop to the No. 6 seed in the district moves Freedom up to the top spot and Gaither to No. 2. Sickles takes over the No. 3 seed, with Wiregrass Ranch and Chamberlain becoming Nos. 4 and 5, respectively.
Siben said losing the top seed is just extra motivation for the squad, which is looking for the first district championship in the program’s three-year history.
“We deserve to be (on) top, we just have to put in the work to prove that’s where we belong once again,” Siben said. He then added, “Only according to FHSAA we’re winless. In our minds we are still undefeated in our district, and we will still go out with our best and play our best to prove that we are the best team in our district, region and state. Just because we dropped rankings in district because of a faulty player means nothing.”
The top-two seeds in the six-team district receive byes to the semifinals, meaning the Nos. 1 and 2 squads only have to win one game in order to earn a playoff berth.
“I look at (it) as an extra game,” Siben said. “We were previously having a bye to the semis, now we get to play a game then semis. More of a preparation in my eyes.”
The Warriors host the 4A-8 tournament Jan. 25-28, with the championship on Saturday, Jan. 28 at 7 p.m. Steinbrenner plays Sickles in the opening round on Wednesday, Jan. 25 at 8 p.m. If the Lutz program wins it would play Gaither in the semifinals on Thursday, Jan. 26 at 8 p.m.
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