Fruit Cove Middle football coach resigns to save team

Association disbands team night before playoff game after complaints

FRUIT COVE, Fla. – A day of drama for the Fruit Cove Middle School football team was resolved Wednesday when the team's head coach agreed to resign so that a decision to disband the team would be reversed, team parents told News4Jax.

Members of the Fruit Cove Middle School football team received a letter late Tuesday night from the St. Johns Middle School Athletic Association, saying the school's football team was being dissolved for the rest of the season.

The news came less than 24 hours before the team was set to face off with Switzerland Point in a playoff game.

A source told News4Jax that two board members actually resigned Tuesday night because the board did not vote on the decision, which they said broke the bylaws.

According to the association president, the decision stemmed from complaints from adults associated with the Fruit Cove Middle girls soccer team. News4Jax has learned those complaints were focused on football team head coach JC Calhoun, so the association told parents that if Calhoun agreed to resign, the team could continue and play its game Wednesday night.

READ: Letter sent to Fruit Cove Middle football parents

According to an assistant football coach, who asked not to be identified, the complaints were regarding the practice field, which is a community field not on school property.

He said a disagreement arose Monday with the Fruit Cove Middle girls soccer team over the use of the field, and that the dispute boils down to bad sportsmanship.

The football team's playoff game took place Wednesday night at that same field at Plantation Park. Fruit Cove lost the game against Switzerland Point. 

In a statement released to News4Jax about the decision to disband the team, the president of the SJMSAA executive board said the association's board members had to intervene several times during the season because of actions by the football team's coaching staff and players.

“In this case, the issue is far deeper than a case of field overcrowding,” board president Justin Palesotti wrote. “A lot of good student-athletes are suffering from the mistakes of a few. For that I am sincerely apologetic to those that are victims of others' poor choices.”

The school's football players and cheerleaders said they found out about the letter disbanding the team at 10 p.m. Tuesday, and they were angry and confused Wednesday, saying they didn't understand why this was happening. 

"We were practicing about four hours earlier. Then we get home and we realize we're not going to be playing tomorrow,” eighth-grader Vincent Approbato said. “It's like, 'What have we all been practicing for all year?'"

Palesotti's statement said the association's agreement with St. Johns County middle schools is designed for the teams to “represent them with pride.”

“This clearly was not happening with Fruit Cove Middle School Football,” he wrote. “As such, it was determined that 'no' representation was better than 'poor' representation at this school, for this sport.”

In a letter to Palesotti, Fruit Cove Middle School Principal Kelly Jacobson asked the association to “consider the gravity of your decision,” which affects students and families.

“As a school district we certainly do not condone inappropriate behavior of any students or coaches aligned with the SJMSAA and trust that your governing board will give this matter its due diligence,” Jacobson wrote. 

Parents told News4Jax that after a day of back-and-forth, a compromise was struck with the association, allowing the game to take place as scheduled Wednesday if Calhoun agreed to step down.

They said he has a good staff who can take over without any problems, and they hope to have a follow-up meeting after the season is over to clear up any lingering trouble.

"When there's an issue between the coaches, I think it should be left between the coaches," said football parent Vernon Kipp. "Kids shouldn't be put in that spot."

Parents said the issue between adults should never have involved the students.

“We have told the boys, 'You’re going to see your hard work pay off,'” football parent Tonya Wood said. “For it to just be dropped from them, it’s so wrong on so many levels. It’s a big life lesson that they shouldn't have to be dealing with.”

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