Prep football dispute takes ugly turn toward the courts

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                </div>  It was bad enough that all of the sports teams at Deer Valley High School were unnecessarily threatened with a post-season ban due to an issue that related to […]<!-- AddThis Sharing Buttons below -->
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It was bad enough that all of the sports teams at Deer Valley High School were unnecessarily threatened with a post-season ban due to an issue that related to just the football program.  That was back in September.

That mess was eventually cleaned up, but now, three months later, the fiasco has taken on a more serious turn with the filing of a lawsuit against school administrators and the state’s governing body for high school sports, the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA).

And along the way, two school administrators have lost their jobs.

As the football schedule was just getting under way this season, a question arose over the eligibility of a couple of Deer Valley football players who had transferred in from Centennial High.  When they were allowed to play in the season opener, despite the fact that an appeal to the AIA over their ruled ineligibility was still in process, the executive board took a clumsy, heavy-handed approach to the issue by penalizing the full roster of sports teams, threatening to ban all of them from the playoffs.

The reasoning for the ‘use-a-hammer-to-kill-a-fly’ approach to the problem was based on the AIA’s understanding that not only was the football coach involved in a “willful disregard” of AIA rules, but he was aided and abetted by the school’s athletic director and principal.  So, because of the conspiratorial nature of the offense, the AIA decided it was necessary to come down hard on the entire school.

After a firestorm of public outrage erupted, the AIA folks decided in early October that they had acted too harshly by throwing a blanket edict over the full program and lifted the post-season ban for all sports, except football.  Then, later that month it removed the probationary status put on the football program and replaced it with a measure called “advisement”, which is the lowest level of discipline.

So the issue appeared settled – until now.

On Dec. 9, Deer Valley Principal Barbara Dobbs and Athletic Director John Allen filed suit, naming as defendants members of the Deer Valley and Peoria school districts and their governing boards, as well as Centennial’s AD and football coach.  The AIA was also included in the suit, specifically naming the organization’s executive director, Harold Slemmer, and the associate executive director, Chuck Schmidt.

According to an Arizona Republic article at the time of the original ruling in September, it was Schmidt that came up with the idea for placing the entire Deer Valley athletic department on probation.

The AIA said that its original ruling was based on information it received that Dobbs and Allen had approved the football coach’s decision to put the ineligible players into the game.  Now, Dobbs and Allen are saying that it was Centennial High that had filed false reports regarding the purported ineligibility of the two players, creating the problem in the first place.

And that’s where it got even uglier when race discrimination was also thrown onto the table. Centennial’s football coach, Richard Taylor, reportedly pointed out in his AIA filing that there were three players who had transferred from Centennial to Deer Valley; two were African American and were subjected to the ineligibility ruling, but a third was White and was not ruled ineligible.  And, according to an article on the KPHO-TV website, Dobbs and Allen also alleged in their suit that the African American students’s rights were violated.

Dobbs and Allen say they made the effort to confirm that the families had actually moved into the Deer Valley zone and then met with all three families before determining, based on AIA rules, that the athletes met the requirements for eligibility.  They claim there didn’t appear to be any question about eligibility and so it wasn’t necessary to hold the players out of the game.

From that point forward, there are conflicting claims over who said what, who made the actual decisions, and an apparent lack of clear communication between the AIA and the school administration.

The bottom line is that Dobbs and Allen are asking for back pay and compensation for emotional stress over what turned into a messy situation that should never have happened in the first place.  Both were placed on administrative leave for 10 days in October and have since been told the district has decided not to renew their contracts.

So far, the Deer Valley Unified School District has chosen not to comment and the AIA’s legal counsel claims the suit is “without merit.”

And here’s the sad irony: Less than a week after that first game had been played, both players were ruled eligible.