AIA lifts Hamilton football probation - SanTan Sun News SanTan Sun News

AIA lifts Hamilton football probation

AIA lifts Hamilton football probation

By Zach Alvira

STS Sports Editor

The Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board voted Aug. 31 to reduce the penalty against the Hamilton football program for a recruiting violation from probation to a warning for its athletic department.

The vote was unanimous among board members. Jennifer Burks, the athletic director at Perry High School, recused herself from the vote.

With the change, Hamilton’s football program is now eligible for the postseason.

“The executive board felt the school and the school district had taken further corrective action that warranted the removal from the probationary status with the football program and placing the athletic program on warning,” board President Dr. Jim Dean said.

“The AIA’s bylaws are related to schools and school violations,” he said. “We never want to be in a situation where we are punishing students and punishing student-athletes. And so, we appreciate the reflection that was done by the Chandler school district, appreciate Superintendent Frank Narducci and his direct involvement in their reflection and further corrective action as they move forward.”

Hamilton head coach Mike Zdebski, Athletic Director Brett Palmer and Chandler Unified School District Athletic Director Shawn Rustad presented additional corrective action to the board during its appeal hearing.

Dean and AIA Executive Director David Hines said they could not go into detail about the additional corrective action as it was closed to the public.

However, the board felt it warranted reconsideration, which led to the entire athletic program being given a warning and the probation on the football program rescinded.

“I can’t discuss personnel issues,” Hines said. “The letter of correction they submitted this time was more extensive than the first time. The board, after reviewing that and asking questions, came to the decision they did.

“The warning placed on the athletic program … makes sure we do the things we are supposed to do. Yet, the kids are not being punished for the actions of a coach.”

Hamilton was placed on probation during the Executive Board’s first meeting of the school year on Aug. 15.

The decision stemmed from direct messages sent from then-defensive coordinator Tim Dougherty to a player at Cesar Chavez High School following a summer 7-on-7 and big man competition.

Hamilton self-reported the violation to the AIA, which included suspending Dougherty for the first three games of the season. In addition, Hamilton and Chandler Unified School District administration held training courses for all fall sports coaches on AIA bylaw 15.12, which is the recruitment rule.

Despite the corrective action, the Hamilton football program was on probation, creating a widespread outcry for more action by parents.

Dougherty retained Marcus “Rocky” Finefrock as his attorney to fight against action taken against him, including the suspension.

Dougherty remained with the Hamilton program up until Aug. 24, when a letter from CUSD to parents announced defensive line coach Parker Barrett would take over duties normally performed by a defensive coordinator.

CUSD officials declined comment. Finefrock, however, said Dougherty was placed on paid administrative leave and would not coach. He remains at the school as a teacher.

“There will be no postseason suspension,” Finefrock wrote in the email on Aug. 24. “Due to public sentiment, CUSD, in their infinite wisdom, will be offering the AIA a sacrificial lamb – arguably the #1 defensive coordinator in Arizona in turn for a shot at the playoffs.”

The board’s decision to reverse course was met with praise on social media. Many felt the players shouldn’t have been punished for the actions of a coach in the first place. However, Dean said it is the board’s job to uphold the AIA bylaws and with that, attempt to limit the impact on kids as much as possible.

“We do not want to put students and student-athletes in a position where they’re punished for the actions of adults and adult behavior,” Dean said. “That being said, the AIA bylaws are very specific on how schools are handled. We are happy to see a different outcome today than we had a couple of weeks ago.”