Lake Highland Prep wrestling coach Mike Palazzo (left) coaching at the Doc Buchanan (Photo/Tony Rotundo, WrestlersAreWarriors.com)
Confirmed by multiple media reports, including Brant Parsons at the Orlando Sentinel, Lake Highland Prep (Fla.) has made the decision to no longer compete as an FHSAA member school in the sport of wrestling.
The Highlanders have finished ranked inside the top 12 of the InterMat Fab 50 in each of the last five seasons, including No. 4 in 2016-17 and then No. 7, No. 6, and No. 6 each of the last three years.
This past season, head coach Mike Palazzo's squad competed in four events outside of Florida and the contiguous states of Georgia and Alabama; Walsh Jesuit Ironman in Ohio, Beast of the East in Delaware, Doc Buchanan in California, and Beat the Streets Duals in Illinois.
The FHSAA issued a clarification to its bylaws in March, which state that schools can only compete one time outside of Florida and/or its contiguous states to remain eligible for the state tournament playoff series; in wrestling the dual team playoffs take place in January, while the individual state series starts in February and ends in March. As opposed to competing in the FHSAA state tournaments, coach Palazzo's squad will compete in the National Prep Championships; those take place at Lehigh University in late February, with qualifying tournaments taking place for member schools the week or two before.
Lake Highland Prep is not alone in Florida for taking this track of being a FHSAA member school, while competing independently in certain sports. The Orlando Sentinel article cites the example of Montverde Academy, which is a boarding school in Florida that competes as a member school in certain sports but independently in other sports.
At present, the FHSAA has taken a relatively "kind" approach to Lake Highland Prep's decision to go independent in wrestling. The Highlanders can remain a member school of the FHSAA in the other sports they sponsor, while still being able to compete in local events during the FHSAA regular season should they so choose.
Unanswered bylaw questions in Florida relate to if Lake Highland Prep still needs to adhere to the weight management standards of the FHSAA, those related to in-season and out-of-season practices, along with scholarship and eligibility bylaws. Bylaw questions for competitions outside the state of Florida will center around the ability for schools to compete against a non-member in that given sport (i.e. in California), as well as the ability in Florida for junior high wrestlers to compete on the varsity level which is not the case in many other states.