Hamilton to file appeal to AIA after football team placed on probation - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News
Hamilton to file appeal to AIA after football team placed on probation

Hamilton to file appeal to AIA after football team placed on probation

August 16th, 2022

In a letter sent to Hamilton High School families on Wednesday, school Principal Mike De La Torre said the school will appeal the Arizona Interscholastic’s Decision to place the football program on probation for a recruiting violation.

“I wanted to provide an update regarding the appeal process stemming from the AIA Executive Board’s decision to put the Hamilton High School football program on probation,” De La Torre wrote in the letter. “As we have in this entire process, Hamilton High administration will continue to work with CUSD administration to determine next steps.

“Hamilton High will file an appeal with the AIA within the required 10-day window as per AIA bylaws.”

De La Torre went on to say he expects a hearing between Hamilton and CUSD leadership and the AIA Executive Board to take place on Aug. 30, three days before the Huskies are scheduled to open the season against Centennial.

“Again, our focus is to make every effort possible for students not to bear the brunt of consequences resulting from the reported violations,” De La Torre wrote. “As always HHS appreciates your support as we navigate this difficult situation.”

The AIA Executive Board voted Monday to place the Hamilton football program on probation following a recruiting violation stemming from direct messages on social media sent from defensive coordinator Tim Dougherty to a Cesar Chavez player.

Board member Toni Corona made the initial motion. It was seconded by a fellow board member and approved.

Jennifer Burks, the athletic director at Perry High School in the Chandler Unified School District, recused herself from the vote which ultimately passed among other members. With the decision, the Huskies are now ineligible for postseason play for a year.

“What’s really challenging for the board at the AIA is these adult people are employees of the schools or school district, and the AIA does not have jurisdiction over personnel issues,” AIA Executive Director David Hines said. “People ask all the time, ‘Why don’t you just punish the coach?’ Legally, we can’t.

“The adult, coaches, are part of that program and they are to uphold the bylaws at all times. If things aren’t followed, you’re putting the program in jeopardy, which then affects kids.”

De La Torre, in a joint statement with Athletic Director Brett Palmer to football families and local media on Monday, said they were disappointed in the outcome of the board’s vote and outlined steps the school has already taken to avoid future violations from occurring.

“We have also already taken steps to prevent this from happening in the future through additional training to ensure all our athletic coaches understand the district’s expectations related to communicating with student athletes,” the statement said. “Our focus now is on trying to make the season a positive experience for all students.

“As we move forward, please continue to respect the impact this decision has on the team and school.”

The decision from the Executive Board comes after Hamilton self-reported the violation after Cesar Chavez Athletic Director Lenny Doerfler took to social media to express his displeasure with the messages sent to his school’s players.

“STOP CONTACTING/RECRUITING CHAVEZ FOOTBALL PLAYERS,” he wrote. “There is absolutely no reason for a coach, player, parent, trainer or anyone else to reach out to one of our athletes online or in person. A few examples of what our athletes are receiving.”

Doerfler went on to post screenshots of the messages. The identity of the player was hidden in the screenshots. However, Dougherty commented on the player’s ability at the defensive line position after watching him during a 7-on-7 and big man competition held by Arizona Varsity’s Just Chilly in June.

Dougherty, in the messages, compared the athlete to former Hamilton defensive lineman Deuce Davis, who is now at the University of Arizona. Dougherty went on to explain that Hamilton’s defense has been one of the top units in the state the last three years, and that they “always plan on playing 14 games at Hamilton,” eluding to the Huskies desire to compete for championships.

“… so only 1/3 of the season against best competition in the state,” Dougherty added. “Iron Sharpens Iron.”

Hamilton submitted corrective action to the AIA for the incident. It included a three-game suspension that included all team activities, including film, practice and other team events.

“During this time, coach will not have any contact with players, staff members or parents of the Hamilton High School football program. This includes practices, games, film sessions, weekend activities, and any other activities that relate to the football program,” read the corrective action.

As part of other corrective action Hamilton took, Palmer trained the football program’s coaches on Article 15.12 of the AIA bylaws, which pertain to recruitment tog athletes. He also went over proper social media usage.

Additionally, Chandler Unified School District Athletic Director Shawn Rustad trained all fall sports coaches on recruiting and social media do’s and dont’s.

Article 15.12 states, “There shall be no recruitment of athletes. Recruitment is defined as the act of influencing a student to enroll in a school or to transfer from one school to another in order that the student may participate in interscholastic athletics.

“No school administrator, athletic coach or employee of a high school district shall engage in recruitment either by direct contact with a student or indirectly through parents, legal guardians, common school employees, directors of summer athletic programs or other persons who are in a position to influence the student’s choice of a school.”

Reports surfaced Tuesday that Dougherty had retained a lawyer to help him fight against any disciplinary action, including suspension. A direct message on social media to Dougherty went unanswered.

Individuals close to the Hamilton program who wished to remain anonymous said the fallout from the decision has started divide the community, as many have lobbied for Dougherty’s removal from the program in an effort to salvage the Huskies’ playoff chances.

Some players took to social media to express their displeasure with the AIA’s ruling shortly after it was announced, including senior kicker Matthew Krneta.

“This is absurd. Punishing us kids is not right,” Krneta wrote on social media. “Many of us have been working years to have one last shot at a state championship our SENIOR YEAR and we don’t get to play in the postseason.”

Chandler Davis, a senior defensive end at Hamilton, said in a direct message the team shocked by the decision.

“I feel like when we all found out it was like something being taken away from each and every one of us out of nowhere,” Davis said. “I mean, to be honest, it still doesn’t feel real. It makes you feel like all this work that we have done as a family is worthless.”