Chandler High ignored leaked opponent’s game plan SanTan Sun News

Chandler High ignored leaked opponent’s game plan

Chandler High ignored leaked opponent’s game plan
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By Zach Alvira, Sports Editor

Chandler High School principal Larry Rother said Tuesday the school’s former head football coach Shaun Aguano notified him when he received an anonymous email tipping him off about opponent Mountain Pointe’s game plan. 

And while Aguano never responded, school officials also decided not to tell Mountain Pointe or Tempe Union High School District because they didn’t think the email was credible.

Rother discussed the email on Tuesday, the day before the Tempe Union Governing Board fired Justin Hager as Mountain Pointe’s assistant football and girls head basketball coach after scores of similar emails to opposing teams’ coaches were traced to him. 

 Rother said Aguano, now the running backs coach at Arizona StateUniversity, approached him and Chandler athletic director Jim Culver with the email, from an account labeled “walterpayton12@yahoo.com”

“Coach Aguano came down to our office and said, ‘hey, I just want to let you know I got this anonymous email from someone claiming to have inside information about Mountain Pointe,’” Rother said. “We asked him if he thought it was credible and he said ‘no.’ 

“We decided we would just move on, delete the email, not respond and go on and plan the game like we normally would.”

According to a Sept. 13 letter from Tempe Union athletic director Bruce Kipper to Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Director David Hines, the email included Mountain Pointe’s game strategy and Chandler’s defensive alignment. 

The anonymous email claimed its author was a former assistant for “many years” under Norris Vaughan, who coached the Pride from 2009-17. 

According to the email, Hager wrote he had not yet been removed from the team’s Hudl account, which is used for game planning and film. He also told Aguano to “please give them a beat down,” referring to Mountain Pointe. 

The email was sent to Aguano on Nov. 5, 2018, four days before a Rich Wellbrock-led Mountain Pointe team faced the Wolves in the 6A Conference quarterfinals. Chandler beat Mountain Pointe 49-21 on Nov. 9, 2018. The Wolves went on to capture their third straight state championship on Dec. 1. 

Rother said that neither Aguano nor any members of his staff would have used any information emailed to them about another team’s game strategry.

“In our community, if you ask people who they think are upstanding and ethical coaches, coach Aguano would be at the top of that list,” Rother said. “High school coaches get that sort of anonymous email often enough that it isn’t a strange thing when they get one. 

“Because it was such a strange email and address, we dismissed it as if it was garbage. We wouldn’t have game planned off something like that.” 

Rother referred to the situation involving Mountain Pointe’s athletics department, students and the entire community as heartbreaking. 

“I can’t imagine how the coaches, students and parents over at Mountain Pointe must feel knowing what this coach did,” Rother said. “Those are the things that hurt kids. 

“But I certainly hope it doesn’t detract from their hard work, their effort and their success on the field because of the actions of one adult who betrayed his own school.”

Chandler Unified School District officials have asked their principals and athletic directors to follow up with coaches after Tempe Union revealed a former Mountain Pointe coach had been sending game strategies to opponents for two years. 

Chandler Unified officials said they were made aware of the leaked information on Sept. 16. 

Tempe Union said Hager had been sharing game strategies for the school’s boys basketball and football teams with opponents dating back to 2017. 

Hager has not returned calls from comment and school officials said they had no idea why he sent the emails.

 “It’s frustrating,” said Hines, whose AIA oversees high school sports in Arizona. “We have been spending a lot of time talking about sportsmanship and educational athletics. 

“We want to be competitive, but this is about the kids,” he added. “We want a level playing field as much as possible. So, when we hear things like that, it’s frustrating.” 

According to Tempe Union, district employees found an email address for walterpayton12@yahoo.com that they linked to Hager. Officials said “hundreds” of emails were found from the account sharing play calls, formations and game strategy with opposing coaches. 

Only a handful of emails were included in a letter sent by Kipper to Hines last Friday, as the email account had been shut down. It’s unclear if the other emails seen by district employees were recovered. 

A summary of the emails sent to the AIA and obtained by the SanTan Sun News includes an exchange between the WalterPayton12 account and the account of Perry High School head football coach Preston Jones. 

According to Tempe Union officials, an email was sent on Nov. 14, 2017 that explained what Mountain Pointe, then led by former coach Norris Vaughan, allegedly planned to do against Perry in the 2017 6A Conference semifinals. 

The email indicated its author was “friends with the (defensive coordinator).” 

According to the email, Mountain Pointe wanted to run the same defense it did against Chandler the week prior. About 40 minutes after receiving the email from WalterPayton12, the email from Jones’s account replied, “Why do you think they will do what they did against Chandler?”

On Nov. 16, 2017, WalterPayton12 allegedly sent pdf images of Mountain Pointe’s defense to Jones’s account but there was no response. 

On Nov. 17, 2017, the day of the semifinal game between Mountain Pointe and Perry, WalterPayton12 again emailed Jones, explaining Mountain Pointe “will run zone read against you guys.” Again, Jones did not reply. 

Perry went on to defeat Mountain Pointe, 56-31. There is no indication of whether or not the information sent to Jones was used against Mountain Pointe. 

It is unclear whether any other Chandler Unified coaches received emails from WalterPayton12. 

“Our entire campus is shocked at these findings. It is the responsibility of all adults on a high school campus to act with integrity and to put students first in all we do,” Mountain Pointe Principal Tomika Banks said in a press release.

 “Mountain Pointe students, families and staff are heartbroken to learn our trust was violated by someone we cared for and considered a member of our family,” she said.

Meanwhile, former players, family members and other members of the high school athletics community in Arizona expressed outrage on social media. 

One former player said he “couldn’t believe he would do such a terrible thing,” while a family member expressed discontent with possible opportunities that were lost due to Hager’s actions. 

During the investigation, former Mountain Pointe basketball coach Duane Eason, who coaches the Pride in the 2017 6A state title game against Pinnacle, said he was asked “informal” questions about Hager. 

Eason said the two often spoke about basketball and coaching techniques. He said he considered Hager a friend. 

“When you share a gym, you’re together all the time. You share a lot because you’re there while the other practices and you’re always talking strategy,” Eason said.

Eason doesn’t blame the emails for his team’s loss. 

“I don’t know how much it made an impact because the kids still have to go out there and execute the game plan, but it’s definitely puzzling,” Eason said.

Mountain Pointe football coach Rich Wellbrock was made aware of the email address after his team’s matchup against Faith Lutheran on Aug. 23. Fox approached Wellbrock and informed him about the emails he had been sent.

“I am at a loss as to why someone would hurt kids in this way,” Wellbrock said in the release. “The entire coaching staff at Mountain Pointe is deeply troubled that a trusted adult in our program would actively work against the success of our students.”

Tempe Union officials have asked the AIA to investigate to “ensure the integrity of high school athletics in Arizona has not been compromised.” 

The AIA bylaws state that “coaches and/or game management personnel will not manipulate or control the environment or game.”

In three seasons as head coach of the girls basketball program, Hager led the Pride to a 64-31 overall record. He led the girls to the postseason all three years, including the state semifinals in the 2016-17 season. 

Hager was also an assistant coach under Vaughan and Wellbrock for the varsity football program.

“In the Tempe Union High School District, we have a set of core values and beliefs that that guide everything we do,” Kipper wrote the AIA. “First and foremost, we put ‘students first’ in all we do and expect all employees to behave with ‘integrity’ in all they do and say.

“We value truthfulness and trustworthiness and we take responsibility for our actions.”

SanTan Sun News staff writer Eric Newman contributed to this report.

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