By Kurt Johnson
Editor’s Note – The TOSH Top 30 is our countdown of the top 30 stories from the 2015-16 school sports year, beginning with No. 30 and counting down, one story a day, to No. 1. The 2015-2016 high school sports year was filled with big performances, both team and individual. The act of narrowing down our initial list of top stories for our TOSH Top 30 stories of the year to just 30 was a difficult task. We asked people all over the state for input into our final list and beginning June 22, we are counting them down in reverse, from story No. 30 to story No. 1. Hopefully your favorite story of the past school year made our list.
It’s likely true that there is no winning when you are in the position of governance over high school sports anywhere. Such seems to be true in Utah and the 2015-2016 school year featured a few disciplinary rulings from the Utah High School Activities Association that were met with agreement or argument, depending on which side of the fence you sit. UHSAA’s continuing no-win situation is No. 8 in our TOSH Top 30 stories of the year.
#8 – Difficult disciplinary decisions
The biggest UHSAA disciplinary story of the year revolved around the football program at Summit Academy in Draper. Because it involved football, alleged recruiting and a charter school playing in Class 2A, it hit a lot of hot buttons that drive up the level of emotions.
In May, the executive committee of the UHSAA, which is made of up one principal from each of the state’s 20 regions, levied severe sanctions against Summit Academy for two incidents of undue recruiting influence. The panel found the school had showed a lack of institutional control and initially imposed a postseason ban on the Summit Academy football program for the 2016 season.
Additionally, UHSAA placed the school’s entire athletic program on two-year probation and forced it to finance a compliance audit for two years as well, specifically to allow UHSAA to monitor transferring students to ensure there is no recruiting. The punishment also included a maximum possible fine of $1,500 for each incident of undue influence ($3,000 total).
A month later, Summit Academy appealed the ruling and a four-member panel kept most of the punishments in place, though it did remove the ban on the football team’s postseason participation. The Bears will be able to play state tournament football in 2016 if they qualify.
The ruling came after a complaint filed by Copper Hills High administrators about text messages from a former Summit Academy assistant football coach to students enrolled at Copper Hills encouraging those students to transfer specifically for athletic purposes. During the appeal, Summit Academy claimed that the volunteer assistant was no longer with its football program when the text messages were sent.
Since that time, there has been a complete turnover in the football coaching staff at the school, with former Pleasant Grove head coach Les Hamilton now running the program heading into the 2016 campaign.
One topic of debate during the appeal process revolved around the appropriateness of using a postseason ban as punishment for an action that does not involve the use of ineligible players. It’s one of those difficult topics with which a governing body has to deal far too often.
The UHSAA is constantly dealing with issues regarding transfers and also enforcing rules. Two other rulings earlier in the school year got attention because many felt the punishments were somewhat unnecessary. It’s hard to draw a line where the rules are enforced and where they are “less important” and that means sometimes the governing body has to take a stand on issues that are hard to understand.
A panel from the executive committee sanctioned the Copper Hills High drill team, fining it $1,500, disqualifying its coach from judging for one year and suspending her from the team’s first 2016 competition. While there were a number of accusations leveled against Copper Hills, the one on which the panel ruled was a violation of changing the performance music between the region and state competition. The controversy was over five beats of music that were added for the state competition and a rule that states there can be “no changes.”
In another ruling from a separate panel the Bonneville High tennis team was fined $500 and the school and its coach were placed on one-year probation for what was deemed to be the unauthorized withdrawal of a player from the state tournament. After winning a quarterfinal match at state, the Bonneville player pulled out of the tournament before her Saturday semifinal because that part of the tournament conflicts with the prestigious USTA national tournament.
Coaches had sought to have the state tournament moved to allow top players to both represent their schools in the state tournament and play in the national tournament, but the dates were not changed. While other players had to choose between the two tournaments, Bonneville’s player played Day 1 before deciding the day before the semifinals to withdraw.
Many people jumped on UHSAA for over-reaching on both of these situations, but as is often the case, the governing body that oversees high school athletics in the state was in a no-win situation.
Related content (TOSH Top 30 stories of the year):