A tweet, an accusation, a ruling: AIA rescinds probation, Hamilton football now eligible for playoffs

Hamilton High football coach Mike Zdebski and his Huskies players will be eligible for the postseason now that the Arizona Interscholastic Association has lifted the probation on the school. (File photo by Julian Rosa/Cronkite News)

PHOENIX – Hamilton High School’s football team received good news Tuesday morning as the program’s probation was lifted by the Arizona Interscholastic Association Executive Board.

The AIA Executive Board met to address Hamilton’s appeal and issued a warning after deciding the program had taken appropriate corrective action to be reinstated.

“The letter of correction that (Hamilton) submitted this time was more extensive than the first time, and after reviewing that and asking questions the board came to the decision,” said AIA executive director David Hines.

The AIA Executive Board placed Hamilton’s football team on probation on Aug. 15, for a recruiting violation, deeming them ineligible for the 2022 playoffs. One of the top football programs in the state, the Huskies were considered a top contender entering the regular season, which opens Friday.

The recruiting violation involved former Hamilton defensive coordinator Tim Dougherty, who sent a direct message on Twitter to a Laveen Cesar Chavez football player sometime after he won a defensive lineman MVP award at an offseason competition in June. Dougherty complimented the player in the direct message and explained how Hamilton turned former defensive end Russell “Deuce” Davis into one of the top players at his position before signing with Arizona.

The player never transferred to Hamilton, but Cesar Chavez athletic director Lenny Doerfler sent Hamilton athletic director Brett Palmer screenshots of the Twitter messages. Hamilton suspended Dougherty for three games before the AIA’s discipline came down. Despite the program’s self-imposed discipline, the AIA still put Hamilton on probation.

In effort to appeal the probation, a notice signed by Hamilton High School through the Chandler Unified School District was sent to Hamilton football players and their families stating that defensive line coach Parker Barrett will take over defensive coordinator duties for this upcoming season.

It is unclear if the removal of Dougherty factored into the AIA’s decision due to the closed executive session, but the decision ultimately came down to the corrective actions Hamilton submitted to the board and AIA not wanting the kids to be punished unfairly.

Hamilton’s final fate was unlike Notre Dame’s appeal attempt in 2016, when the football team violated AIA offseason practice violations and failed to win its appeal resulting in a suspension from the playoffs.

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“We never want to be in a situation where we are punishing students or punishing athletes and so we appreciate the reflection that was done by the Chandler school district,” AIA Executive Board president Dr. Jim Dean said. “The executive board felt like 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.”

In Tuesday’s meeting, the board also addressed another appeal from Queen Creek High School. Queen Creek’s baseball program was placed on probation and received a postseason ban on Aug. 15, for pitching violations during the 2021 spring season. Due to Queen Creek’s new administration staff and the corrective actions taken, the probation ban on the baseball program was downgraded to a warning.

“The entire Queen Creek high school administration is brand new and so they inherited this violation and so we appreciate Queen Creek looking into the situation further and responding appropriately,” Dean said. “Again we do not want to put students and student-athletes in a position where they are punished for the actions of adults.”

Madison Thacker mad-uh-sun thack-er (she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Madison Thacker expects to graduate in December 2022 with a bachelor’s degree in sports journalism. Thacker has interned as a reporter with The Arizona Republic.