SANFORD — Chad Long is fighting to get his job back, calling himself the scapegoat in a sports-recruiting scandal at Oviedo High two years ago that Seminole County school leaders described as the worst case of rules violations they could recall.
Long, who spent more than six years at Oviedo High as a teacher and coach, claims he was sacrificed by school-district officials at the highest levels because they were eager to cut a deal with the Florida High School Athletic Association.
His fate is in the hands of an arbitrator, who has been hearing evidence from former students, as well as coaches, parents and school-district officials.
When the school's recruiting violations were announced in 2011, the state athletic association had threatened fines totaling a record $280,000 for infractions involving the wrestling and volleyball programs. The scope of infractions and penalty were said to be the largest ever in the state.
But the FHSAA quickly reduced fines against Oviedo High to $57,000 after the school made a number of concessions — including removing Long as coach of the girls' volleyball team and promising other discipline. FHSAA concluded he had recruited one player.
Following the FHSAA investigation, the School Board fired Long, 45, from his job as a physical-education teacher at Oviedo High.
Although two part-time wrestling coaches also were dismissed in the wake of the scandal that mostly involved Oviedo High's wrestling team, where five ineligible players were discovered, Long was the only full-time employee to lose his job.
Higher-ups with oversight of the school's athletic programs, including Principal Robert Lundquist, athletic director Wes Allen and assistant athletic director John Howell, escaped largely unscathed. Lundquist continues as principal. And though both Allen and Howell were removed as heads of the athletic department, both retained their teaching positions. Allen continues as head football coach as well.
In firing Long, officials cited a crude remark to the girls on his volleyball team, in addition to the FHSAA recruiting violation.
But girls on the team and other coaches say that profanity and vulgar remarks by both coaches and players are commonplace in high-school athletics and seldom bring even reprimands from officials.
Long, who was suspended in December 2010 and fired the following September, is challenging the School Board's dismissal through binding arbitration. He also is suing the FHSAA in a separate action, saying its finding has damaged his career.
"I didn't recruit that girl," Long said, adding that the FHSAA never interviewed him before finding that he had enticed a player to transfer to the school, in violation of FHSAA rules.
Still, school-district officials stand behind the firing.
"We have an obligation to have the best role models for our students," said Superintendent Walt Griffin.
But Griffin's involvement in the case has come into question, too. As director of high schools at the time, he approved the transfer to Oviedo High for the volleyball player who later was declared ineligible. Griffin said the approval seemed warranted based on parents' claims of hardships.
Long is gambling that the binding arbitration will win back his job. Andrew Dixon, an arbitrator from Sarasota who will make the final decision, heard the case Wednesday and Thursday.
However, no immediate resolution is in sight. The arbitration, which began with a two-day session in early May, has been continued until late July.
Long said the accusations against him have made it difficult for him to get another job, but he is "encouraged by the facts" that have come out so far in the arbitration testimony.
Principal Lundquist acknowledged that he had received an email from Long questioning whether the girl who enrolled at Oviedo High was eligible to participate in volleyball. Long had pointed out that she already had moved from Winter Springs and Lake Howell high schools in a short period of time — apparently shopping for a prime volleyball-team position.
Lundquist said he passed the email on to the athletic director but "didn't really know" whether the concern was pursued.