Arnold Officials Refute Football Investigation Claims

By: Mark Vaughn Email
By: Mark Vaughn Email

PANAMA CITY BEACH, FL- Arnold High School and Bay District School officials have completed their own investigation into claims the school's football program violated rules. And Monday they refuted the finding of that independent investigation.

Arnold principal Keith Bland and Bay District School's director of operational support , Dr. John Haley, say the statements in the original report are false.

The Arnold football program was rocked by allegations that head coach James Hale, and former volunteer assistant coach, Mark Cowart, were giving improper benefits to student athletes.

The initial report, conducted by former Port St. Joe basketball coach Vern Epinette, accused coach Hale and some of his assistants of providing players rides to school, a free condo to stay in, and gift cards for good play on the field.

2 former Arnold students, who have since transferred to Bay High, also said they did not take the required classes to graduate.

Arnold Principal Keith Bland said, "Transcripts show that students took the proper classes and we also have statements from district staff that came in to do a review of the students transcripts to show that they did take the proper course work."

School district officials attribute the original claim to Epinette's not understanding Arnold's course credit system. They say he's since issued a retraction, saying he was mistaken about the students grades. The district also says it did not find any instance of players or their families living in a free condo.

"As far as improper housing I was made aware of it back at the start of the summer, and I looked into it myself. Found no evidence of anything occurring. Hence the statements you have today," Bland added.

Former volunteer assistant Mark Cowart, who resigned amid the allegations, said in a statement that he never gave any players or their families a free condo to stay in, and a player's family members accused of getting a free condo also says that's a false claim. School and district officials say they're reviewing policies on giving students and athletes gift cards for good performances.

"If it gets to being an excessive issue or it gets to a point where it's going to jeopardize his college eligibility of high school eligibility then it definitely needs to stop," Bland said.

The school district's report will now go to the Florida High School Athletic Association.

Dr. Haley said, "We had to investigate and analyze what was turned in. You can't just accept whatever is turned into you. The students deserve that. I think the school, the reputation and the integrity of the school, they deserve that."

Coach James Hale and his wife, Arnold athletic director Julie Hale issued a joint statement Monday, saying the false allegations have hurt their family and players, and they're pleased to have the issue put to rest.

Bland says he expects to turn in that report to the FHSAA in the next couple of weeks.

A copy of the report and documents is attached to this story.

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  • by Joe Location: PC on Feb 29, 2012 at 06:36 AM
    Ray, I do have the answers and many others do as well... including but not limited to Mr. Husfelt, Mr. Bland, Mr. Haley, and the Hales. These are the times that you give the persons in charge the opportunity to do the right thing. If they choose otherwise, then the "true" story will surface from "other sources". That would be ashamed and such a black eye for Bay District.
  • by Ray Location: Panama City Beach on Feb 28, 2012 at 10:01 PM
    Well, Joe. It seems if you have all the answers and I would assume the evidence of what the truth is in this matter, so why don't you make your own presentation to the FSHAA? Or, alternatively, you could present your proof to the media, I'm sure WJHG would love to see it. Don't be shy now, just do it.
  • by michael Location: callaway on Feb 28, 2012 at 07:55 PM
    It appears that the only thing that has changed is that Vern Eppinette wrote a letter clearing Arnold of failing to make the athletes take enough classes to graduate and that a volunteer assistant coach quit. Everything else is still the same, and yet the school board has already cleared the school of any wrongdoing. Meaning that the school district has tactically given their okay to all these shenanigans. So what's to stop the gift cards, condos and special treatment for the athletes out to Arnold? Will this continue? And if the FHSAA has to step in due to the lack of ethics from our local school board, what happens then?
  • by karen Location: pc on Feb 28, 2012 at 08:36 AM
    Why are we not allowed to investigate ourselves when we are in trouble? Because we would "clear" ourselves also. Just because you don't like what investigators discover does not mean it's wrong. This is like having criminals clear themselves of their crimes through their own investigation. The investigator that you hired found wrong doing so just investigate yourself and you will clear you.
  • by John Location: PCB on Feb 28, 2012 at 08:21 AM
    The Arnold Invetigative Report is a great read and full of incorrect information. If I was Mr. Bland or with one of the Hale's on Arnold's staff I would ask Mr. Cowart to just go away and be quiet. Go and Google Edgewater Beach Realty Panama City Beach, FL and see how many residential property that area on your rental program at Edgewater, Long Beach, En Soliel, Majestic Beach, and Grand Panama. All are resorts, but all are also residential property, under the management of the company. Just be quiet and hope that it goes away.
  • by Scott on Feb 28, 2012 at 05:48 AM
    Transcripts can be falsified. Arnold conducted their own investigation. Like putting the jewel theif in charge of the jewlery store.
  • by Bill Location: PCB on Feb 28, 2012 at 05:30 AM
    Mr. Husfelt and the rest of the Bay County Board Members need to step back take a look at how this looks and at the (minimum)reassign Bland, Hale, and Hale. How can a wife hold her husband accountable? They should breakdown the Athelics department at Arnold and start over. Secondly for the Board members is to answer this question. How is someone who is interviewed as a part of the investigation as possibly being involved allowed to do the investigation for the district and then come out and say that everything is fine. And lastly, why is Arnold working off of a different "credit" system to the rest of the district as when a student transfers from Arnold to Bay is told that he needs to take more core classes. I transferred from school to school in the district and a credit was a credit. It is just very interesting, adn for some reason Husfelt, board members, and teachers can't understand why all of the parents are going towards charter or private schools for their childrens educations.....Sad and I hope that the School Board can wake up and fix all their issues.
  • by eddie Location: Panama City on Feb 27, 2012 at 07:39 PM
    Bay District needs to remember, that the covering up and lying can get you in more trouble than the original offense. Ask Bill Clinton. There were clearly problems associated with the condos, transportation by coaches, gift cards and money, and purported active recruitment by Hale himself. With all of the recent issues, the public needs to know that those that were elected will do the right thing. It is no mystery that this has been going on for years and years. Ask the players, opposing coaches, and the media. They all know the truth.
  • by Joe Location: PC on Feb 27, 2012 at 06:28 PM
    Cover up cover up cover up. When your own hired gun gives you the bad news, you know it is for real. If the players were not staying in the front beach road condo, then why was it listed (both at the same time mind you) as their permanent address in the school database? One of two scenarios here: 1 - the players were using a false address(provided for by coach Cowart)and thus they would be ineligible to play at Arnold, or 2- it was exactly as it appears: free condos provided to certain players and their families. Either way it is a clear FHSAA violation. Secondly, transportation provided by a coach to your non-zoned school is a major FHSAA violation. Read the bylaws people. Gift cards, cash at times, and dissapearing arrest records? And the rest of the story..they never missed a game. Give it up-this was finally too big for Mr. Haley to hide under the rug. Informing neighboring school officials to quit asking questions just would not work anymore. Tell the truth, the kids are watching!!
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