A football soap opera at the School Jack Nicklaus Built
The Benjamin School is the craziest thing to happen to Florida high school football since the state athletic association tried to declare it a coed sport to defend a Title IX lawsuit.
The tony, private high school (excuse me, UPPER school) in Palm Beach Gardens, Fla., has an annual sticker price is $21,625. The Upper School exists mainly because impediment-to-Tiger-Woods-as-greatest-golfer-of-all-time Jack Nicklaus and wife Barbara (right) supplied it with large-scale fundraising and grandkids as students. And yet, it is providing the kind of lower-class, off-the-field excitement once the domain of another presumably tony private school, the University of Miami.
Here is a timeline of recent events for the football team at Benjamin:
Sept. 30: Head coach Ron Ream, in his 30th season, apparently “put his hands” on a player in practice. Ream later says he grabbed the player’s jersey with both hands and pulled him upright while trying to discipline him.
Oct. 9: During a game against King’s Academy, the player who Ream grabbed in practice is taken out of the game in the third quarter. According to police report (that’s foreshadowing), when volunteer assistant coach Tom Flynn, a former teammate of Joe Montana at Notre Dame, tried to grab the player’s jersey to get his attention, the player popped him in the face, breaking Flynn’s nose. Flynn resigns, the player is suspended.
Oct. 15: The school sends an email to staff saying that Ream has resigned as football coach, though he would stay on as athletic director. The school gives no reason for Ream’s sudden resignation, though sources start telling local media outlets it might be related to the previous weeks’ scuffles. Immediately, outraged alumni and supporters start an effort to get Ream his job back. Among the stunned players: freshman wide receiver Charlie Nicklaus, one of Jack’s 21 grandchildren.
Oct. 16: Under new coach, former assistant Ryan Smith, Benjamin beats Pope John Paul II 58-23.
Oct. 19: Smith is back to being an assistant. The Benjamin board reinstates Ream as head coach. As with his resignation, it gave no reason.
Oct. 21: The player who Ream grabbed, and who popped Flynn in the schnozz, is arrested. Sam Faria, a 5-foot-9, 155-pounder running back/cornerback, is arrested on aggravated battery charges. When police asked Faria why they arrested him, he said, “for assaulting my coach.” It is confirmed by local media that Ream lost his job because of his earlier incident with Faria.
Oct. 22: Faria is bailed out of jail — by Ream. Did even the Miami coaches bail out their own players? Ream told local media why he did it: “People make mistakes, and we all are human.” Faria is still suspended from the football team, though not from school.
Oct. 23: Ream is back on the field for Benjamin’s homecoming game.
What the hell is going on here?
The allegations are that Faria’s mother demanded Ream’s resignation or else she would sue (a charge Faria’s grandmother denied on her behalf), and that Ream was reinstated because powerful alumni intervened (something that has not been confirmed). Basically, that in a tony private school with a big price-tag, the board was doing what it was supposed to do — sniffing in the direction of the most money.
That still doesn’t explain Ream, and why he would bail out Faria. Maybe he just likes the guy. Maybe this is some sort of behind-the-scenes pressure so everyone gets to save face, and Benjamin is all one happy family. Who knows? All I know is, it’s something you, um, don’t see every day.
By the way, the school’s most powerful backer, Nicklaus, hasn’t said anything related to the Ream-Flynn-Faria controversy. Then again, he has his own troubles with Benjamin. Namely, that another of his grandsons is going to be called to testify in the criminal trial of a former student who partied with him and other students on Nicklaus’ boat, and then, driving drunk, crashed and killed another driver.