Is Sequoia Pathway Academy’s canceled season about more than low participation?

Amid controversy and allegations surrounding low participation, coach behavior and threats, the Sequoia Pathway Academy Pumas canceled their 2023 football season after a winless start. (Photo courtesy of Sequoia Pathway Academy)

PHOENIX – After starting the 2023 season 0-4, Sequoia Pathway Academy canceled its football season, citing low participation numbers and student health as the primary reasons.

However, low participation may not be the only reason behind the abrupt end to the Maricopa school’s season. Former and current players and other members of the Sequoia Pathway community have voiced their thoughts on the current situation with the Pumas and first-year coach Kerry Taylor.

“Lying to the news is wild,” senior lineman Jeremiah Irvin tweeted. “Coach Taylor was cool until the young kids started losing games, then he was getting upset with the kids telling them they will all be working 9-5 jobs well his life is set and he did what he had to do, the kids at pathway quit the team.”

Taylor did not respond to a request for comment.

Taylor, a former ASU Sun Devils player who had a four-year playing career with the NFL, stepped into his new role as Pumas football coach and athletic director earlier this year after the school announced it was parting ways with Donnie Margerum. Margerum was at the helm of the Pumas for four seasons, finishing with a 25-12 record.

Throughout the first four games of the ‘23 season, the Pumas put up only 20 points while giving up 247 to their opponents. The 27 players on the Pumas’ roster consisted of eight returners, leading Taylor to build his team mostly from scratch.

Starting in the offseason, Taylor seemingly got off on the wrong foot with most of his players. Not only were there claims that Taylor insulted players but Zach Bachelder, a former Pumas assistant coach under Margerum, said some players had their participation in other sports threatened.

“Dude had over 20 kids from last year’s team when he arrived on campus,” Bachelder tweeted. “He won’t tell you the part that he threatened them to not let them play in their spring sport games for not attending a(n) offseason meeting.”

Timothy Kaley, a former coach and teacher at Sequoia Pathway, told BJ Media LLC that Sequoia Pathway principal Rehema Stephens threatened his job after Kaley voiced some concerns about the program to the Arizona Interscholastic Association.

Kaley is also among those who have been active on Twitter in response to the canceled season.

“I feel horrible for the players at the end of the day,” Kaley shared in a tweet. “The players at (P)athway were told to take down their posts about Kerry Taylor and the football program or be suspended from school. It kind of sounds familiar to what I was told when I was at Sequoia!!!”

Before stepping into his new role at Sequoia Pathway Academy, Taylor previously coached at San Tan Charter and Arcadia High School. A Valley native, Taylor played wide receiver for Hamilton High School in Chandler and at ASU before bouncing around with nine NFL teams, including the Arizona Cardinals.

Taylor spent two years at Arcadia before stepping down from his coaching role. In 2018, Taylor brought a Panthers team that had been 0-10 in 2017 to 6-4 in his first season. Despite his first-year success, Arcadia’s administration decided to part ways with Taylor. However, that did not last long.

Titans players and parents were noticeably upset by Taylor’s firing, and called for the school to reinstate him as head coach. The administration offered him his coaching position soon after.

In his second season with the Titans, the team finished with another 6-4 record before Taylor stepped down as head coach.

Taylor moved to coach at San Tan Charter in 2020. During this time, the Roadrunners were making the jump from the Canyon Athletic Association (CAA) to the AIA.

The Roadrunners finished 3-5 in their first season in the AIA 2A Conference. In 2021, the team finished 5-5.

However, after its last game against Arete Prep, the school announced in a tweet that it would be parting ways with Taylor, effective immediately.

The decision came after the team celebrated its 40-22 win against the Chargers at midfield by jumping on the spot decorated with a pink ribbon to commemorate Chargers coach Cord Smith’s wife, who was battling Stage 4 cancer and had served as the honorary captain during the coin toss. Taylor, who reportedly said he had already accepted an internship with the Tampa Bay Buccaneers before the season’s final game, told reporters he disapproved of his players’ postgame actions.

Taylor was hired by Sequoia Pathway as both athletic director and football coach for the 2023 season.

The season got off to a rocky start with the team having low participation numbers. Before announcing the cancellation of its season, the winless Pumas informed the AIA that they only had 11 eligible players available for their game against Arete Prep on Sept. 21.

Given the sudden cancellation, Arete Prep was given the forfeit win, but this leaves a hole in the schedules of the Pumas’ remaining five opponents.

“Right now, they just lose the game on their schedule,” said AIA sports information director Seth Polansky. “They are one game short, but they are able to fill that in if they can.”

If the Pumas can rebuild, they would be able to participate next season, so long as they formally request to come back and inform their conference committee of their decision before the scheduling meeting takes place.

The season’s abrupt end leaves a lot of questions for the Pumas to figure out.

“Sad day for the school man!! I feel for the boys still there! Hopefully they get the wrong folks off the buss and the right ones on!!!” Margerum, the former coach, tweeted.

Caitlin Fowble(she/her/hers)
Sports Reporter, Phoenix

Caitlin Fowble expects to graduate in December 2023 with a master’s degree in sports journalism. Fowble has worked as a digital aide for Arizona PBS and has interned with the Orange County Riptide in the sports information department.