IMMOKALEE — Spring football certainly had a different feel to it on Thursday night in Immokalee.
What is usually a festive time had an undercurrent of tension, as the powerhouse program has come under question by the FHSAA for alleged use of ineligible players.
The Indians self-reported three overaged student-athletes, including one football player, and that could cost Immokalee its 2005 district title. The 2004 state title could be stripped, as Immokalee failed to fill out EL4 forms for non-U.S. citizens on the squad.
With every school in Collier County and several other schools across the state guilty of not filling out the forms, it is unclear if the Indians will be punished.
What is clear is the community is standing behind its team. Although many Immokalee residents wouldn’t comment on the recent events, a few gave strong opinions on the matter.
“It’s unfortunate, the immigrants in this community are just trying to make a better life for themselves,” Naples resident and Immokalee graduate James Lewis said. “They (the FHSAA) really shouldn’t deprive the kids that worked so hard for that state championship, because this isn’t their fault. If all the schools in the county and many others in the state haven’t filled out the proper forms, how can you punish Immokalee? This community doesn’t have much, and now they want to take the championship away from them? It would be devastating.”
Barnaby Martinez of Immokalee agreed that stripping the school of the state title would be a big blow to the community.
“Half the town was at the state championship game,” Martinez said. “For them to finally win it was amazing. I can’t imagine it being taken away. Those kids and this town deserve the state championship.”
Felipe Munoz of Immokalee said the use of overage players was embarrassing, but didn’t think the school knowingly did anything wrong.
“Rules are rules, and they got punished for (using the adult players),” Munoz said. “Although I think it would be pretty hard to track that kind of thing. I mean, I’m sure many people use fake birth certificates because they may not have them from their home country.”
Lewis said the incident might make Immokalee and other schools a bit more careful.
“I think you’ll see the schools paying a lot more attention to the paperwork,” he said. “But really, I think the system is at fault here, not the school. It’s just a shame because if we never won the state title, do you think they’d be making such a big deal about it? What about the other schools that didn’t fill out the paperwork? The system really needs to be changed.”