Bishop McLaughlin baseball, basketball, football sanctioned by FHSAA

SPRING HILL — Official confirmation of penalties levied against the Bishop McLaughlin athletics department have been obtained from the Florida High School Athletic Association. 

The FHSAA emailed the sanction letter to The Suncoast News and Tampa Beacon, stating that the Hurricanes’ football, boys basketball and baseball programs each have been placed on three-year probation. The ruling excludes each sport from taking part in the FHSAA’s state series, concluding with the 2023-24 school year, requires the forfeiture of all games and honors from the 2020-2021, and includes fines totaling $70,000. 

The report detailed improper contact with student-athletes, impermissible benefits and athletic recruiting that took place under the guidance of the school’s previous athletic administration led by former athletic director Rex DesvaristesThe sanction letter cites approximately 18 allegations forwarded to the Bishop McLaughlin administration dating back to Sept. 27, 2020. Desvaristes was mentioned in the report, hit with a six-week ban from attending any interscholastic sport and had $5,000 withheld of his salary. 

Under Desvaristes’ watch, the school had two student-athletes with grade point averages below 2.0 take part in 11 interscholastic contests and another student-athlete playing in eight interscholastic contests despite being in high school for a fifth yearThe report detailed that three baseball players and two basketball players were given transportation by a representative of the school with athletic interests. 

self-report on May 21, 2021, by Christopher Pastura of the Diocese of St. Petersburg, stated that a Bishop McLaughlin staff member was confronted by a parent who was making a $300 payment and angrily shared that he had an agreement with Desvaristes where they would meet offsite at a gas station and Desvaristes would pay back the tuition in cash payments. 

The school has ousted coaches from each of the affected programs, which started with baseball coach Marc Eskew. Eskew was dismissed as manager after leading the Hurricanes to a record of 19-9 in 2020. Bishop McLaughlin has since hired a new coach in Rob Ducey. Baseball assistant Steve Burkhardt was hit with a six-week ban starting Feb. 14, 2022, and the school is withholding $5,000 of his salary, per the report. 

The boys basketball program also parted ways with Derrick Sharp, who led the Hurricanes to the Class 3A state championship game in the 2020-2021 season before losing 85-76 to Fort Lauderdale Calvary Christian Academy. It was a meteoric rise from the 2019-2020 season when the Hurricanes went 2-22. Bishop McLaughlin announced in the offseason the appointment of former Wesley Chapel coach Doug Greseth as head coach. Sharp was hit with a six-week ban starting Nov. 15, 2021, and the school is withholding $5,000 of his salary, per the report. 

One of the violations listed in the FHSAA’s report described a situation where three student-athletes wearing Bishop McLaughlin uniforms posted a photo-shopped picture on social media while still enrolled at their previous school. The report states the post was retweeted by the newly hired Sharp. 

Andy Villamarzo can be reached at andyvillamarzo@gmail.com and follow him on Twitter @avillamarzo.