Notes Detail Accusations of Arnold Football Gifts, Cash, Travel

Click to Read:
- Arnold High School Investigative Notes, Part 1
- Arnold High School Investigative Notes, Part 2

Bay District School officials released detailed notes today of interviews conducted during an investigation into allegations surrounding the Arnold High School football program.

Last week, the district released a summary of the investigation, including what the district called “concerns” and which the report said were “unproven.”

Today, the notes released by the district detail interviews with a dozen current and former Arnold students, and some parents. The names of current and former players were removed by the district.

Common threads run through many of the interviews:
•Middle school students were personally recruited to Arnold by football coach James Hale.
•Players said they received gift cards from Hale for free food, mostly from the Montego Bay restaurants.
•Players were given cash by a volunteer to the program, Panama City Beach real estate agent Mark Cowart. A few of the students reported that Cowart would give them $20 or $25 after each game. He would give them money at other times if they asked for it, they told the investigator.
•Cowart or another volunteer picked them up at home and drove them to and from school.
•Players were given free access by Cowart to the Laketown Wharf Condo swimming pool and Jacuzzi.
•Players would spend the night at Cowart’s Laketown Wharf condo or at Cowart’s Bay Point home.
•Players also complained that they were made to take too many phys ed classes and not allowed to take enough core education classes to qualify them to attend major colleges and universities.

An official with the Florida High School Athletic Association told NewsChannel 7 that anything given to players would be impermissible under FHSAA rules unless the item was also available to every other student at the high school, whether an athlete or not.

The official also said any payments of cash to a student athlete could jeopardize that student’s amateur status, which is necessary to participate in high school or NCAA sports programs.

Reached by phone this afternoon, Mark Cowart told NewsChannel 7: “These are all just unsubstantiated rumors. That’s all they are. It’s just crazy, all this stuff. And I’m not going to comment.”

Hale had left Arnold’s campus by the time the report was released this afternoon. Calls to his home went unanswered.

Reporter Chad Mira is interviewing officials at Arnold and with Bay District Schools and will have more to report tonight on NewsChannel 7 at 10.

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