Gang Tackled

Football star Jarvis Hicks couldn't resist the undertow of gang violence

Difficult doesn´t begin to describe the nightmare Jarvis had with schoolwork. He struggled mightily in math, yet Ramer admits that she, like so many teachers, passed him anyway.

¨I was the most lenient grader in the world,¨ she concedes. ¨Some of the star athletes would get in my class, and they couldn´t even multiply whole numbers. But I just felt like I couldn´t pull the rug out from under them. You felt like with all the problems happening at Deerfield, all the fighting, that football was the thing that held everything together.¨

Ramer wonders how far some of the faculty might have gone in that regard. Especially when it came to the most pressure-filled test of all. If Hicks didn´t pass the FCAT, he couldn´t graduate. And when he took the test that fall, he failed the verbal section of the test with a one, the lowest score possible.

Jarvis Hicks runs the ball for Salisbury, with his good friend and roommate Zach Johnson blocking up front.
courtesy of salisbury school courtesy of salisbury
Jarvis Hicks runs the ball for Salisbury, with his good friend and roommate Zach Johnson blocking up front.
Jarvis Hicks
Jarvis Hicks

Four months later, he took the test again with hundreds of other Deerfield students. Miraculously, his score jumped up to a five, the top score possible, achieved by only about 10 percent of students. Jarvis was suddenly an elite student.

Ramer didn´t buy it. Adding to the mystery, another college-bound football star (now playing junior-college ball) made a similar leap, from a two to a five. That student scored a lowly 450 on the verbal section of his SAT -- seeming to contradict the outstanding score on the FCAT, according to school board records obtained by New Times.

The teacher didn´t think Jarvis would cheat on his own. He wasn´t that kind of kid. But perhaps a proctor, scheming to protect prized athletic prospects, had orchestrated it. Ramer says other students told her that they were aware of the cheating but were afraid to come forward.

Ramer reported what she knew about the anomalies to the school´s administration, specifically to assistant principals Colleen Stearn and Antonio Womack. ¨I never heard anything about it,¨ she says. (Neither Stearn, Womack, nor Principal Kathleen Martinez returned phone calls for comment.)

Early last year, after Ramer had left the school, she contacted then-Superintendent Frank Till with her concerns. Till initiated an investigation that, before its quick termination, uncovered some scintillating facts.

After confirming that Ramer´s information was correct, research specialist David Geneiveve interviewed Principal Martinez, who told him that the state´s Department of Education had also detected suspicious scores after the October 2004 Deerfield Beach test, which involved 21 proctors. The state withheld the tests of eight students based on anomalies, though for some reason, Jarvis´ test wasn´t one of them.

Since he found no ¨concrete evidence¨ of cheating, Geneiveve closed the case without interviewing Jarvis or the proctors. He concedes now, though, that Jarvis´ test improvement represented ¨a huge leap¨ that he has no way to explain.

Because Jarvis had a respectable -- and very likely inflated -- 2.3 GPA, he needed only a 900 on the SAT to qualify academically to play football at UConn. The average score in Florida is about 1,000.

His score was in the low 700s, showing just how unlikely that five score was.

He didn´t qualify to play, but Jarvis was too big a star to go down easily. UConn´s head football coach, Randy Edsall, recommended him for a spot at Salisbury School in Connecticut´s bucolic Northwest Corner. He´d forgo graduating from Deerfield and spend a year at the prep school to get the academic help he needed.

The Hicks´ family wouldn´t have to pay a dime of the $40,000 annual cost. But he´d get no free ride in the classroom.

Esse quam videri.

Translated from Latin, the Salisbury School´s rather philosophical motto is: ¨To be, rather than to seem to be.¨

Salisbury football coach Adamson now wonders: Was Jarvis Hicks ever really there? Or did he just seem to be?

Of course, he was there physically. And he was known as a good kid. But like most kids shipped to Salisbury -- most of them the sons of old New England wealth -- he carried home with him everywhere he went.

Jarvis could hardly have been further from home. When Jerome Hicks visited his son at the school in the fall of 2005, he recalls the meticulous grounds, the Colonial-style buildings, the sprawling woods around the regal campus. Jarvis wasn´t in Deerfield anymore.

¨They had the ties, the blazers, everything,¨ says Hicks, who noticed that his son was one of very few black students in the school, which enrolls about 290 boys each year. ¨He lived in a big room with two other players. They had their own desks, beds, computers. It was nice. And everybody there loved him, just loved him.¨

¨Jarvis was just a sweet kid, kind soul, good heart,¨ Adamson says.

The coach, living in a home that connected to the dorm, would visit Jarvis and his roommates with his 2-year-old son, Luke, on a near-daily basis. ¨My son just adored Jarvis,¨ Adamson says. ¨We´d go to his room after study hall. He was one of my favorite people at the school. They´d be playing videogames, and Jarvis was always really nice to Luke. Luke grew to love him. Every football doll he has, he still names Jarvis.´¨

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