Pahokee (Fla.) forced to vacate state football title due to use of ineligible player

Pahokee (Fla.) must vacate the Class 1A state football title the team won in December due to its use of an ineligible player, according to the Palm Beach Post. The Florida High School Athletic Association informed the Palm Beach County School District of the penalty, which came as a result of a fifth year of play for a participant in the championship game.

Under FHSAA rules, high school athletes can only participate in four years of play.

The school district told the Post it will appeal the FHSAA’s decision once a formal ruling has come down, likely by the end of the week.

“This is a disappointing turn of events that will be felt throughout the entire community,” read the note written to parents from Pahokee principal Michael Aronson and football coach Orson Walkes. “This ruling should not detract from the accomplishments of our students on and off the field. Every day, and especially now, we must be Pahokee Proud of our students. We ask that you support and encourage our students by celebrating their teamwork, character, and commitment to school and community.”

On Dec. 8, Pahokee finished won the Class 1A state football championship with a 34-21 win over Baker, its seventh state title but its first since 2008. The Blue Devils finished a perfect 14-0.

“I can be at peace now,” Walkes, the first-year head coach, told the Post after the title game.

Walkes is Pahokee’s third coach in as many seasons. Blaze Thompson, who won a pair of state championships in 2007 and 2008, stepped down after the 2014 season.

Pahokee alum and former Wake Forest and NFL cornerback Alphonso Smith replaced Thompson. But after leading the Blue Devils to an 8-2 regular-season record, the former Denver Bronco and Detroit Lion was removed in Nov. 2015 and eventually fired following a Palm Beach County Sheriff’s Office investigation.