District officials have released new details into reported rules violations by Sabino High School’s baseball team and former coach Mark Chandler.
Chandler resigned his position Friday, following the completion of Tucson Unified School District’s investigation into the violations. On Tuesday, the Arizona Interscholastic Association stripped Sabino of its 2018 Class 3A state championship and placed the team on probation for a year, rendering it ineligible for postseason play in 2019.
TUSD Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo said five violations had been reported to TUSD officials, who launched an investigation in response. The investigation found two of the allegations to be true, but two could not be substantiated. Trujillo declined to discuss the fifth allegation, citing federal student privacy laws, but district officials said in a news release that it involved a student who reported bullying and retaliation.
The two unproven allegations included reports that a Sabino coach illegally recruited a student-athlete who later transferred to the school, and a report that parents were pressured to have student-athletes play outside league and club baseball, the release said.
Of the allegations, TUSD ruled Sabercats coaches violated the AIA’s “prior contact rule,” related to two student-athletes who transferred to Sabino and should have been ineligible to play during the 2018 season. The district’s investigation revealed that the players had prior contact with Sabino coaches through a club team, according to the release.
The investigation also found that a former assistant coach was being paid with booster club funds. He was called an equipment manager, but in reality served as a coach.
District officials have already appealed the decision with the AIA. They will appear at a Sept. 12 hearing to request that Sabino student-athletes “be held harmless from the mistakes made by the adults responsible” for compliance to AIA rules, the release said.
This isn’t the first time Chandler, who did not respond to the Star’s request for comment, has been found by the district to have violated AIA rules.
In 2005, the district issued a “letter of direction” to Chandler, when he was the coach at Sahuaro, saying that he violated the spirit of AIA bylaws by usurping the rule that says there will be no practice on Sundays during the school year. Chandler asked pitchers who were scheduled to start games on Mondays or Tuesdays to throw on Sundays, establishing an expectation that they were to practice regardless of whether coaches were present, the letter said.
Chandler also violated AIA rules when he used a player in both varsity and junior varsity games on the same day, according to the letter.
Chandler was told to review all AIA, conference and regional policies regarding practice dates and use of players while under the supervision of Sahuaro’s activities director of assistant principal. Chandler was placed on probation for the 2005-06 season and told that the assistant principal would review his conduct to decide if the probation should be extended or revoked, according to the letter.
In 2015, Chandler was issued a written reprimand by TUSD after an investigation found him guilty of insubordination, violation of governing board policies and misuse of funds intended for state tournament meals, TUSD records show.
The investigation also determined that Chandler co-mingled money from the student activity and booster funds and violated AIA rules by forming a team of eighth-through-10th-graders who were not good enough to play for Sahuaro’s varsity or junior varsity teams. Chandler allowed the team to play on Sahuaro’s baseball field without a rental agreement, used Sahuaro coaches to train the players and gave the players Sahuaro hats. The team was also listed on the school’s website, along with the varsity and junior varsity teams, the disciplinary letter said.
As a result of the investigation, Chandler was required to reimburse the student activity fund for the money improperly spent on meals. The district took away his school-issued credit card, according to the letter.
Chandler was suspended during the 2015 investigation, which TUSD administrator Herman House said caused many players and families to become upset, believing that the investigation was a “witch hunt.”
“In fact ... your suspension and the related investigation were triggered by serious lapses in judgement concerning statute, policy and AIA regulation,” House wrote in a letter to Chandler.
Chandler was required to schedule a meeting for players and families, in which he explained the errors he made and issued an apology, according to the letter.