Three months have passed since the high school baseball state championships were played. Football just opened the 2018 schedule with its Zero Week games, and soccer and volleyball are ready to begin a new season.
But baseball is still holding on to some of the media’s attention — for a story that continues to linger long after Sabino High School was crowned the 3A state champion. The story is an important one because the Tucson school may not get to keep the hardware, or the title.
An investigation into possible recruiting violations by the Sabino coaching staff was begun when a parent sent an email to the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) questioning the eligibility of at least one, maybe as many as 10, players on the roster. That was back in mid-May and since then the investigation has moved forward at a painfully slow pace for anxious players and parents awaiting a decision by the AIA, the state’s governing body for prep sports.
The Tucson Unified School District (TUSD) began interviewing parents and players in June, but last month told KGUN9 TV that it had run into a lack of cooperation from some of those they tried to interview, which was delaying the process. The unavailability of some families, due to summer vacation schedules, also hindered the district’s efforts.
Last week, the TUSD governing board met in executive session to review the findings to date. That’s the step that had to be taken before the AIA could consider the issue. Those findings will be referred to the AIA and now that organization is expected to review the matter when it meets Sept. 12 and begin the process of determining whether to take action.
The TUSD board will meet again at the end of this month and is expected to decide at that time whether to share the findings of the investigation with the public.
According to Arizona Public Media, which quoted TUSD superintendent Gabriel Trujillo, the investigation includes possible violations involving using an ineligible player, inappropriate use of funding, and illegal recruitment practices. Head coach Mark Chandler allegedly put student-raised funds into a booster club account, which is a violation of district policies.
There are also some questions to consider about the eligibility of as many as 10 transfer students.
The original complaint to the AIA accused the Sabino program of illegally recruiting players from other Tucson-area high schools, and claimed first-hand knowledge of the practice.
Sabino fans are not the only ones watching how this whole thing unfolds. The investigation is also being closely followed at another Tucson high school.
If Sabino is stripped of the title, the gold ball would logically go to Sahuarita High School, the team Sabino beat for the 3A title.