3A baseball championship

Sabino High School pitcher Preston Clifford, bottom center, gets mobbed by teammates after between Sahuarita to win the Arizona 3A baseball championship game at Hi Corbett Field in Tucson on May 14, 2018.

PHOENIX — The Arizona Interscholastic Association has upheld its revocation of Sabino's 2018 high school baseball championship because of rules violations made by former coach Mark Chandler. Chandler stepped down last month as the team's coach last month. 

But after hearing from school and district officials about recently taken corrective actions, the executive board scaled down its discipline against the team Wednesday, reducing the previously issued probation to a warning.

The AIA stripped Sabino baseball of its 2018 state title last month and put the team on probation for a year, rendering it ineligible for postseason play during the 2018-2019 school year.

The sanctions followed a months-long investigation by Tucson Unified School District that revealed the team violated AIA rules regarding prior contact with student athletes in baseball clubs and illegal use of booster funds to pay for an additional coach. The district investigated three other complaints, but said those could not be substantiated.

After listening from impassioned pleas by Tucson Unified School District Superintendent Gabriel Trujillo and Sabino Principal Russell Doty Wednesday, the AIA executive board voted to uphold the loss of the state championship, but reduce the probation to a warning.

Trujillo told the board the investigation took 300 hours and consisted of more than 50 interviews with student athletes and coaches from Sabino and other schools.

“We’re not here to deny the findings of the investigation,” Trujuillo said. “Thse are actions we do not endorse.”

Trujillo outlined the “sweeping” personnel actions the district has taken, saying that all the involved coaches and assistant coaches are no longer with the district.

Doty told the board that the investigation into the violations was the most comprehensive he’s aware of in his 20-year history as a high school administrator.

When TUSD self-reported the suspected violations to the AIA, they hadn’t yet had time to take corrective actions and therefore, they weren’t included in the district’s report.

As a result, the AIA decided on sanctions without knowing what kind of action the district had taken. Doty told the board it didn’t surprise him that the AIA had levied the “heaviest of sanctions” upon the team.

Since TUSD reported the violations to the AIA, all of the involved coaches have since been removed from the program, Doty said.

Trujillo later confirmed that the involved coaches would not be eligible for rehire by TUSD.

The booster program has been disbanded and all leftover funds were transferred into the Sabino baseball club account, and members of the club and the principal must give prior approval for all purchases out of that account, Doty said.

The administrator who recommended the coach be paid as an equipment manager out of booster funds has been disciplined and is aware that no one in any school program can be paid by anyone other than TUSD.

“Mistakes were made by adults and the end result was consequences against the student athletes,” Doty said. “Mistakes made by adults shouldn’t impact these students for the rest of their lives.”

Trujillo told the board that the district has ordered an immediate and comprehensive financial audit of all TUSD sports programs that report to the AIA, including verification of funding for each coaching position. The district will also be auditing all booster clubs, and has asked for “exhaustive reports” about all expenditures for the past two years.

The district will also be implementing training for coaches over the next two school years that will focus on AIA bylaws, including prior contact, eligibility, ineligibility and funding sources.

Trujillo spoke to the board about his own experience competing for a state championship on the track team, saying that although he didn’t win, he’ll never forget what it was like.

“These athletes, there’s a memory on the table here that will define their lives,” Trujillo said of the baseball team’s state championship win. “I think we have an opportunity here to send a message that we do not believe in holding student athletes responsible for the mistakes of adults.”

AIA Executive Director David Hines applauded Trujillo and Doty for their thoroughness, saying they demonstrated the intent and mission of the AIA’s self-reporting model and implemented positive changes as a result of their investigation.

“I don’t think schools get recognized enough for great leadership,” Hines said. “What we’ve seen today is great leadership by the TUSD community.”

The board voted on the unanimous decision to modify the discipline after returning from executive session, with one member saying TUSD was the model of what the AIA is looking for when it comes to corrective action.

Trujillo, who left the meeting before the board reached a decision, declined to talk to reporters.

Contact reporter Caitlin Schmidt at cschmidt@tucson.com or 573-4191


 

I'm a watchdog reporter covering local government, the University of Arizona and sports investigations.