Gateway High School is set to open in Fall 2021
Gateway High School is set to open in Fall 2021 with four career academies, a state-of-the-art weight room and sophisticated science classrooms.
Amanda Inscore, Fort Myers News-Press
The Gateway High School boys basketball coach is suspended for the first six weeks of the 2021-22 season and three players are suspended from playing sports for a year as part of state sanctions against the school following an FHSAA recruiting investigation.
Gateway, which starts varsity sports this fall after spending last season as a freshman program, was also fined $2,500 and placed on administrative probation in addition to an official letter of censure. The FHSAA is requiring Gateway to review its policies and procedures with staff, parents, students and volunteers and schedule an FHSAA Eligibility & Compliance workshop.
According to the FHSAA investigation, which The News-Press obtained from a public information request, Gateway self-reported a potential improper contact violation by Eagles coach Quran Pettyjohn after complaints about three 2020-21 Lehigh varsity basketball players transferring to Gateway were made to Lee County Athletic Director David LaRosa and Gateway Principal Neketa Watson by Lehigh Senior High Principal Jackie Corey and boys basketball coach and athletic director Greg Coleman.
Corey and Coleman alleged the three players were recruited by Pettyjohn, who also ran the AAU Lehigh Blue Devils basketball team on which all three played and was the Lehigh assistant basketball coach before being hired to lead the Gateway program in May 2020. The three players, whose names were redacted in the investigation, all were deemed ineligible to play high school sports from May 25, 2021 to May 25, 2022.
The FHSAA found the rides Pettyjohn gave Lehigh basketball players from practices and games constituted improper contact between the Lehigh student-athletes and Pettyjohn, according to the findings of Craig Damon, the FHSAA associate executive director.
According to the investigation, Coleman confronted Pettyjohn about the rides in December 2020 after it was announced Gateway would have varsity sports in the 2021-22 school year. Coleman called it a conflict of interest, and a verbal complaint to LaRosa followed.
“He has left players without supervision after games and practices on several occasions,” Pettyjohn rebutted in an email. “Players have called me several times to give them a ride home, when they were left without rides. After practice and games, Coleman leaves without concern for the players safety and supervision.”
Coming off a season in which the Lightning won the Class 6A-District 13 championship, the three players filed paperwork to attend Gateway for the 2021-22 school year in February.
Corey emailed LaRosa and Watson on March 21, explaining she had “serious issue with this” due to their participation on Pettyjohn’s travel team.
“This is a perfect example of recruiting and is a violation of the FHSAA,” Corey wrote in an email to Watson and LaRosa. “Hopefully, we can resolve this together. If not, this will need to be taken up with the FHSAA. This is disappointing and truly unfortunate.”
Watson responded to Damon’s inquiry that she was “confident that recruiting did not occur,” making it clear that recruiting guidelines were made clear to Pettyjohn during three rounds of interviews. She said she couldn’t offer the job to another candidate because of recruiting violations in his background.
“Gateway High School is the newest high school in Lee County and we are now the number (No. 1) selected school in the district,” Watson wrote. “We do not have to recruit kids to come to Gateway.”
The school’s 55.6-acre, $98 million campus was built over the past two years with a capacity of 2,000 students.
Watson acknowledged Pettyjohn’s relationship with the three students through coaching them in AAU.
“Kids want to be with people that they like and trust,” she wrote.
In a statement for the investigation, Pettyjohn said the Blue Devils players attend various schools, and he gives them rides to and from practice as needed. He maintained he played no role in recruiting students to Gateway.
“The players did not leave a winning program, they left the person in charge of the program,” he stated.
Coleman made LaRosa aware of the rumors regarding player transfers in March, and Corey emailed Watson about possible recruiting violations within the Gateway program. An investigation was requested shortly after.
The FHSAA 2021-2022 handbook states that offering free or reduced-cost transportation is a prohibited arrangement. The disciplinary measures require a $2,500 fine and a minimum six-week suspension for the violating coach.
Watson, Corey, and Gateway athletic director Nicholas Polk could not be reached for comment. Coleman and Pettyjohn said they could not comment at this time.
The findings and the penalties can be appealed by Gateway within 10 business days.
“Gateway High School will abide by the sanctions but plans to appeal the students ineligibility to play,” Lee County spokesman Rob Spicker wrote in an email requesting school district comment.
Follow News-Press Sports Reporter Dustin Levy on Twitter: @DustinBLevy. For additional coverage of sports across Southwest Florida, follow @newspresssports and @ndnprepzone on Instagram.