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Why the AIA came down hard on athletic violations at Sabino H.S., and what parents need to know

Posted at 5:47 PM, Mar 19, 2019
and last updated 2019-03-19 23:19:19-04

TUCSON, Ariz. — Recruiting violations at Sabino High School cost teams a championship and a big shot at a tournament victory. But could it happen somewhere else?

An investigation into how athletic directors, school administrators and coaches dropped the ball and how the Arizona Interscholastic Association (AIA) came down hard on a Tucson high school reveals what every parent needs to know about athletics in Arizona.

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The intense scrutiny on Sabino athletics began with the baseball team after a complaint to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

It stripped a championship from the 2018 Sabercats baseball team for misuse of funds and recruiting violations.

In September, TUSD's superintendent, Gabriel Trujillo lost his AIA appeal to get back the championship, citing the district had already taken corrective action. Administration fired some of the coaches, including the head coach Mark Chandler, and disciplined Sabino's athletic director, Jay Campos.

"You've heard of sweeping and immediate personnel actions that we've taken," Trujillo said at the board meeting.

Trujillo told the board that to ensure the violations don't happen again at any TUSD school, he put TUSD's athletic director Herman House in charge. House is also the AIA board president.

Trujillo said he gave House direct orders to set up professional development training for coaches, starting in the 2018-19 school year.

"A very structured and intentional professional development for every single coach at every single level of every single Arizona Interscholastic Association Athletic program we have," Trujillo told the board.

So Trujillo had vowed to take steps -- training -- to make sure violations don't happen again. So why did the AIA drop the hammer twice on Sabino, only a few months later starting with the girls soccer team?

Sabino was forced to drop three players who were deemed ineligible for violating club tournament rules. AIA records reveal Athletic Director Jay Campos appealed the eligibility ruling. The board denied Sabino's request to allow the three athletes on the roster.

Two sources directly connected to the soccer team tell us the conflict wasn't made clear to parents about the club tournament rules up until the 11th hour -- claims the superintendent said "just aren't accurate" during a February media briefing.

AIA Executive Director David Hines says the rules are very clear. Once the regular season starts, students cannot participate in any outside clubs, leagues or tournaments.

"That rule has been in effect for over 15 years," Hines said. "It's not a real confusing rule."

Hines says it's the responsibility of athletic directors and coaches to get that information to parents and students.

But that wasn't the only girls team investigated.

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Girls Basketball became the focus of another Sabino investigation into recruiting and prior contact. The AIA received a complaint on Jan. 16 revealing problems in the program. Two days later, TUSD self-reported the potential violations only months after the Sabino baseball scandal.

The top-ranked Sabercats had to forfeit several games, but the AIA allowed the team to play in the postseason tournament while the AIA waited for Sabino's required violations report.

The AIA had "placed the school on probation" because the "situation wasn't remedied to the board's satisfaction."

Then the unexpected happened -- the AIA pulled the team from the tournament after the quarterfinals.

Trujillo cried foul during a recent media briefing, blasting the AIA for keeping them out of the loop and taking a harsher stance against the team.

"I think it unfairly subjected the Sabino High School girls basketball team to a level of humiliation that could have been avoided very quietly had the AIA executive director worked with the executive board to create an emergency meeting situation," he said.

So Trujillo casts blame on the AIA, but Hines says the "AIA doesn't facilitate special meetings of the executive board unless requested" by a school or district. He says Sabino and the district "could have requested the meeting," but "it did not."

"We were aware of the that they were going to forfeit some games, but they had not completed their full report. This the board is not going to hear a partial report for a discussion or a determination to be made," Hines said, confirming the district was aware of the rule.

So the board had warned the district -- "pull the team out of the tournament before the brackets were released," or "risk being pulled while the postseason games are in progress."

"The school and district did not want to do that," Hines said.

Sabino finally turned in the violations report on the eve bracket announcement and "AIA had nothing go on other than the "what if" scenarios addressed" with no time to review the report. So "the board took action to remove Sabino from the tournament" at its regularly scheduled meeting.

Hines says the AIA can only guide districts and "how to proceed after a potential violation is part of the administrator's job. If the suggestions aren't implemented in a timely manner, the Executive Board will come to action as outlined by the Bylaws and policies."

Another blow to the Sabercats following the Sabino baseball scandal in 2018. Two more Sabino teams faced fallout for violating AIA rules -- Girls soccer and basketball.

A January complaint to the AIA questions why Sabino hasn't "set clear parameters and safe guards" to ensure everyone follows the rules, even though the superintendent vowed during the baseball team's appeals hearing in September that the district would conduct mandatory training for all coaches.

"With regards to having a thorough understanding of AIA bylaws as they relate to prior contact the eligibility of athletes the ineligibility of athletes," Trujillo said.

We contacted the district for details on the training.

An email sent to us Feb. 1 reveals TUSD left that task up to the AIA.

Here's what the district wrote:

"The Fall (8/4), Winter (10/27) and Spring (2/2) Coaching sessions are conducted by the AIA and it's mandatory that all head coaches attend. In each of those sessions -- there is a Bylaw review."

We checked with the AIA.

We're told the 3 session didn't cover recruiting and prior contact rules, the rules had been covered in depth the previous year.

But during a February media briefing, the superintendent applauded the district for holding training on recruiting rules.

"In fact, we've had 2 trainings specific to bylaws that pertain to prior contact," Trujillo said.

TUSD also scheduled "district" required coaches training.

An email reveals the only dates given -- February 9 and April 13.

But listen to what Trujillo stated during his media briefing:

"We've already had two of the scheduled four district-wide trainings for every single coach, having already transpired since the Sabino hearing in October. And I think that's us moving remarkably quick," Trujillo said.

So at this point, conflicting statements from the district make it unclear what training the coaches received and when. What is clear, though, is Trujillo says the district or school should not be held accountable in the girls basketball case.

Cavazos: What's the requirement for the AD? Shouldn't they already know all the rules that have to do with recruiting, since they're so severe?
Trujillo: I want it noted for the record that the AD Jay Campos did absolutely everything correct in the case. Principal Russel Doty did everything right and compliant with district policy.

Trujillo instead points fingers at the parents, athletes and coaches for withholding vital information that could lead to violations.

But that wasn't necessarily the case with the 2018 Sabino baseball program. KGUN9 has learned school administrators had been warned.

The complaint sent to the AIA at the end of the baseball season reveals school administrators knew about potential recruiting and prior contact violations for several months.

And documents and texts we obtained show the school took little or no action until the AIA received the complaint.

TUSD's investigation found the athletic director, Jay Campos, failed to follow up on disciplinary action regarding prior contact.

Then months later, the district discovers the girls basketball team violated the same rule.

Cavazos: Do you think the AIA has lost faith in TUSD to fix this issue?
Trujillo: No. The AIA has been incredibly supportive. We have a friendly disagreement about how they've gone about this situation.

Here's what the AIA Executive Director says about Sabino's repeated violations.

Cavazos: You came down pretty hard on Sabino. Are you not seeing enough corrective actions?
Hines: Really Valerie, I think that they are trying. I think it is some things that they have to correct -- that they're trying to correct now.

Hines adds too much pressure is put on coaches to have winning seasons -- but he stresses that the onus falls on district and school leadership -- to send a clear message -- that violations will not be tolerated.

"They're having to work pretty dog gone hard to clean up some things," Hines said.