Lastings Impressions

This taken from the May 18, 2002 St. Petersburg Times:

School expels Milledge

Northside Christian says the junior centerfielder for its Class A state finalist team violated its rules.

By JOHN C. COTEY, Times Staff Writer
© St. Petersburg Times
published May 18, 2002

Lastings Milledge, a junior centerfielder for state finalist Northside Christian, was expelled from school Friday amid allegations of inappropriate behavior with a minor girl, Milledge’s father said.

The state attorney’s office has been investigating Milledge and another athlete at the school for the alleged incident, which occurred off campus, Tony Milledge said Friday.

Tony Milledge, who said his son and the other athlete were at a practice at the time the incident allegedly occurred, denied his son did anything wrong and plans to hire an attorney because the school did not wait for the state attorney’s office investigation to conclude.

“It’s all a bunch of crap,” said Tony Milledge, a Florida Highway Patrol officer. “All the allegations were found to be untrue. They know we don’t have the money and can’t go out and holler and scream at anybody.

“The only thing is they just don’t want him back. They told the boys it was in everyone’s best interests if they don’t come back to school.”

Northside Christian principal Larry Webster, who would only say the expulsion was related to a violation of school rules, said the school did not take any action against the athletes before Friday because, “We felt like we wanted to wait until the state attorney had concluded their investigation.”

Asked why the school didn’t continue to wait, Webster said, “We basically got a green light from them to do what we needed to do.”

Joe Walker of the state attorney’s office did not confirm Webster was given a green light, saying only: “Our case is under investigation; what the school does is their business.”

Last month, Pinellas County Sheriff’s Office spokeswoman Marianne Pasha said that there was “an open investigation involving two male students at the school … involving alleged lewd and lascivious activities involving several young female students.”

She added no one was arrested, no charges were filed and the case was in the hands of the state attorney’s office. Records are not available because the parties are juveniles.

“They pretty much (depositioned) the entire school,” Tony Milledge said. “They didn’t come up with nothing.”

Investigators fingerprinted his son’s truck, Tony Milledge said. He also said Lastings, 17, has cooperated fully with investigators, as have he and his wife.

“We went through everything,” he said. “He didn’t have anything to hide.”

Milledge (6 feet, 175 pounds), who lives in Palmetto, led Pinellas County this season in batting average, home runs and RBIs. Baseball America has rated him the top high school junior prospect in the country and said if he was a senior, he’d be the top pick in June’s draft. Tony Milledge said the family hadn’t formed a plan for where Lastings would attend school next year. For a high school junior to be eligible for the June 4-5 draft, he would have to have earned a General Equivalency Degree.

Lastings Milledge was unavailable for comment because he was coaching a Little League game in Bradenton, his father said.

Tony Milledge didn’t think the expulsion would hurt his son’s draft prospects next year.

“He might go 30th instead of first, but it don’t make no difference,” he said. “I’m only concerned with getting his name cleared.”

Monday, Lastings Milledge sparked the Mustangs, ranked No. 7 in the country, to an 11-0 Class A semifinal win at Legends Field. In the final Tuesday, Northside Christian, which had the best season in school history and has risen to national prominence primarily because of Milledge, lost to Miami Brito.

Because of the timing of Milledge’s expulsion and the end of baseball season, Webster said he is bracing for criticism from those who suggest the two are related.

“I know (we’ll be criticized), but our timing had nothing to do with the status of our baseball team,” Webster said. “It’s completely unrelated. I think people are going to draw their own conclusions. … We made a decision that we felt was appropriate at the time.”

Baseball coach Darrell Don said the school told him he could not comment.

Tony Milledge is convinced the timing is not coincidental: “If they were going to do something why not suspend him (during the season) instead of waiting until after he gets through busting his butt trying to win something for the school? They used him, then they stabbed him in the back.”

Milledge also suggested that the school was singling out two prominent black athletes at a predominantly white school.

“I’m not going to even get into it. Just look at it,” he said. “It’s self explanatory.”

Webster said there was no chance either athlete would be re-admitted to school.

“At this point in time, that is not an option,” he said.

The move took most at school by surprise, said Pam Barnaky, the mother of Mustangs first baseman Justin Barnaky. She said she was “blown away” by the news.

“I’ve been around Lastings for three years and he is a great kid,” she said. “I have never seen anything in his behavior to suggest these things. This is bizarre. I don’t know that they’ll ever know the truth, but his life has been scarred now and he’ll never be able to look back on his senior year.”

Barnaky also said she questioned the timing, and thinks it will leave a “bruise” on the school’s reputation.”

Is this an example of a parent’s blind love? :

“It’s all a bunch of crap,” said Tony Milledge, a Florida Highway Patrol officer. “All the allegations were found to be untrue. They know we don’t have the money and can’t go out and holler and scream at anybody.”

Truth is, there was much more to Lastings’ behavior that ticked off the school — these allegations of sexual favors were the tip of the iceberg. In the end, Lastings was expelled from school and then entered a juvenile arbitration program PARTLY because of the sex-related allegations.

After they drafted Milledge 14th overall in the 2002 draft, the Mets had second thoughts and hired a private investigator to look into the troubled youngster’s background. Though nothing was ever made official, and the Mets eventually signed him, rumors abound that there was more to Milledge’s troubles at school than sexual relations with his girlfriend.

Bad rap? Maybe. But where there’s smoke …

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