Is good sportsmanship possible? The Nature Coast Technical Sharks' saga is not over but a review of the entire athletic structure may help prevent a reoccurrence.
Hopefully, the residents of this community - all 165,000 - are sick and tired of having our coaches, children, fans, administrators and athletic programs associated with poor sportsmanship.
Come on, who wants the media to pile on to a situation in our backyard? Is this what you get when a win-at-all-costs situation is created?
That's exactly what outsiders are saying.
The flap over the events at Groveland-South Lake High School on Nov. 7 is not over.
This much we know, after the football stadium lights went out with 3:45 left, a melee resulted between the host Eagles and the visiting Sharks.
Second-hand media accounts say brawl, yet this isn't the Wild West. What fight?
What happened next in the darkness is up to individual interpretation.
This much is known, the Eagles' players reacted to their quarterback being tackled the instant the lights went out. Members of the South Lake football team came across the field on to the NCT sideline.
Some kind of skirmish took place.
Was it a fight? Or were NCT folks simply defending themselves from the oncoming onslaught?
The details here are blurry, at best.
Here's what we do know.
After each school presented its arguments, the state's governing body of athletics, the Gainesville-based Florida High School Athletic Association, imposed serious sanctions.
Not only was NCT's Head Coach Jamie Joyner and center Brad Lucier suspended, but so were four South Lake players.
Additionally, the FHSAA meted out hefty fines totaling $10,400 to the Sharks but also $8,500 to the Eagles. The Sharks' latest fine set a county record, surpassing the team's $6,000 fine in 2006.
Most importantly, due to both team's conduct on the field on the second to last game of the season, the FHSAA pulled the plug on their respective campaigns.
Even NCT's last-ditch legal efforts failed to have the Sharks play in the coveted regional playoffs.
As a result, NCT's dream 9-0 start concluded with its football program relegated to the sidelines, its credibility further tarnished and its future playing status literally placed on double secret probation.
Yet, it's not over.
NCT's Principal Margaret "Tizzy" Schoelles appealed Joyner's six-week suspension by the FHSAA. That decision has not been rendered.
The Hernando County School Board is patiently waiting its turn to weigh in on Joyner's fate. They do not want to jump in until the FHSAA appeal process is completed.
And if that weren't all, the reparations due to Central High for not playing on Nov. 14 against NCT on its Senior Night have also not been disclosed.
Isn't NCT's punishment too severe? Some say it's not enough.
And why are members of the media (who weren't at either game) associating what happened between Central and NCT in 2007 and the recent incident? In both cases, NCT was not the instigating school.
In the blame game, shouldn't the team that instigates a ruckus be given the stiffest penalties? Isn't NCT really just guilty by association?
Come on, let's call it what it is: It's another on-field incident involving a Nature Coast Technical athletic program.
Let's clean this up
So where do we go from here?
A wise man once said, "If you're not a part of the solution, you're part of the problem."
Before NCT's football team takes its next snap, perhaps the county's powers that be should sit down (listening Dr. Alexander?) and focus on why this current mess was allowed to fester in the first place.
Let's face it, having a vocational school with no borders has irked many of the other local teams. Other schools see NCT's setup as a tilted system.
A week ago, a Pasco County Athletic Director told Hernando Today, "Why is it every time we play somebody from Hernando County, all they want to talk about is what Nature Coast is doing? Isn't anyone guarding the hen house there?"
Why is there such interest in the NCT saga outside the county?
"No one here likes playing 'em," he said. "As a whole, they're athletically talented. But they are an undisciplined bunch. I have nothing against (Jamie) Joyner personally, but it always seems like they're in the middle of some controversy."
To many other schools, their perception is reality. NCT thinks of itself as an academy school instead of a trade school.
Isn't NCT a private school in a public school setting? Since its inception, why suddenly has a technical school drawn in so many of the county's most gifted athletes?
As a local coach told Hernando Today, "I wouldn't care if Nature Coast whips us 50-0 every single time we play them," he said. "If only they'd follow the rules like the rest of us adhere to."
Like with all problems, it's a matter of priorities and policies set in motion from the top. Perhaps the county's powers that be should seriously consider looking at or reshaping that structure.
Should Joyner be culpable for Central High taking off their helmets and demonstrating on the Sharks' midfield? Or even South Lake's football team descending upon their bench in the dark?
Yes, this is Joyner's team so he must be held accountable for his squad's actions. But should he receive a pink slip due to his team's guilt by association? Absolutely not.
You see, sportsmanship isn't simply limited to shaking hands in a phalanx following a contest.
Sportsmanship isn't picking a guy up off the field after a tackle.
Sportsmanship isn't yelling derogatory things from the stands.
Sportsmanship isn't calling off a full-court press with a 30-point lead.
Sportsmanship isn't about throwing bombs against the back-ups on homecoming.
Sportsmanship isn't telling the referee, "Nice call."
Sportsmanship isn't about winning or losing or even tying and then walking away.
Good sportsmanship is all those things.